How Teachers Can Make the Most of Summer Break

(Photo Credit © Sharpshutter via iStock)

It’s understandable if the last thing you want to do on your summer break is focus on teaching – it’s been a long school year, after all. After packing up your classroom, the first thing you need to do is take a break: Go on vacation, go swimming with the kids, and read a beach novel or two – you deserve it. And self-care is just as important as caring for others.

Summer is a time to refresh, relax, and recharge. It can be a time when you work a part-time job to bring in some extra money. But it also can be a time unencumbered by classroom needs, which leaves you free to focus on ideas and plans without the demands and interruptions of daily teaching.

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“Here’s my advice to those of you who want to use part of your summer to get ahead for fall: Focus on tasks that will create more time for you later,” writes Angela Watson, a teacher and author who does a podcast that regularly appears in the top 10, “Truth for Teachers.” “If you’re going to think about school this summer, think about ways you can set yourself up for success later.”

Watson suggests several steps, including these:

What were your biggest stress triggers last school year? Look for solutions to those things first.
Make sense of your digital files. She suggests Dropbox, creating a separate folder for each class.
Where is your lesson plan weak? If there are subjects for which you know you need more materials, skills, or methods, spend some time online looking for resources that pertain to just that subject. Education Week and Edutopia are good starting places for many curriculum-related topics.

Here are some other activities that will help you maximize your summer. Grab a popsicle and browse with us:

Education reading: Now’s the time to soak in the books you’d wished you had time for in those busy months past. Mary Snellgrove, a teacher coach in Cincinnati, has these books on her recommendation list for the education website CT3: Why Do I Need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google? by education author and entrepreneur Ian Gilbert; Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading by author and former middle school teacher Kylene Beers and author and education consultant Robert E. Probst; Teaching with the Brain in Mind, by author and former secondary school teacher Eric Jensen; and Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning by author Peter H. Johnston, professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Albany.

Networking: Use part of the summer to make contacts and expand your networking resources in your school or community, especially if you’ll be starting a new position (or if you need to look for one). You can start with professional organizations (the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the College Board are good places to start), former professors, and the school where you student-taught.

Professional development: Sure, this is a requirement for your continuing certification as a teacher or to reach the next step on the salary scale. But it can also be personally helpful to you in your classroom. Look for classes that emphasize technology, digital learning, video proficiency, or classroom management.

Explore a few top educational sites and apps: Have you browsed TED talks? Played with Kahoot or Google Classroom? Now’s the time to download a bunch of apps for educators and see what they could do for you. “Tech has transformed the classroom, and no one can dispute that there are more advantages than liabilities to harnessing the potential of smartphones and tablets as mobile devices integrate ever more tightly into students’ lives,” writes Digital Trends. The article recommends 20 different apps, ranging from classroom assistants to reading aids, with links for both IOS and Android; other top suggestions include Seesaw, Remind, Classtree, Slack, and Addito.

Create new classroom posters, charts or games and have them laminated. This is something that there’s rarely enough time in the school year to do, but you’ll benefit yearly from it if you do it this summer.

Read a few kids’ books that are appropriate for your grade level. These can be classics or new titles; Scholastic has a sort-by-age list of 100 read-aloud books for younger kids, and Goodreads has lists of the best Young Adult (YA) books for older students. Start at the library, and if a book particularly moves you, order it for your classroom.

Will you be a first-year teacher in the fall? Then you’re probably juggling nerves, lesson plans, and classroom decoration ideas. Jeanne Wolz, who writes the popular blog Teacher Off-Duty, offers these items on her summer to-do list:

• Create your classroom management plan: This includes coming up with classroom procedures, policies, routines, and rules; knowing what will happen when rules are broken; and creating incentive ideas and rewards.
• Plan your first two weeks: This could include finding a mentor teacher who can help you get started, becoming familiar with the year’s curriculum, and setting learning goals for your students.
• Plan some getting-to-know-you activities: Everyone is anxious on the first day of class, so bring some icebreakers. You can create a word search with every student’s name in it; take a class picture that you’ll save to compare with another photo during the last week of school; have students sit in a circle and toss a beach ball around that has questions written on each stripe of the ball; whatever stripe their right hand lands on is the question they answer; or pass out Q-and-A sheets that ask questions like “Do you have a pet?” and “If you could spend the day with one fictional character, who would it be?”
• Design a system for supplies and paper flow: Where will stacks of paper and pencils be kept? Where will students turn in their papers? Do you need to keep different classes separate from one another? How many folders or plastic trays do you need?
• Choose or create a data-collection or progress-monitoring system: You can track nearly anything about a group of students: academic records, behavior notes, progress toward standards, test scores – the list is seemingly endless. Decide what you think you’ll need to record and create a system for it (Wolz notes that Pinterest has tons of ideas for this.)
• Shop school-supply and clearance sales: You can’t have too many pencils, notebooks, white board markers, or file folders (ultimately, some students won’t come prepared or won’t be able to afford what they need). Haunt the school-supply and clearance sales at places like Walmart, Target, Office Depot or Staples, and the dollar stores.

Finally, consider whether a specific online course will help fill out your summer and benefit you in the fall. DominicanCAonline offers courses ranging from one to six credits, in Administration, Arts, Classroom Management, Coaching, Educational Travel, Health and Wellness, Language Arts & ELL, Math, Professional Reading, Science, Social Studies, Educational Outreach, Special Education, and Technology. Most online courses become available as soon as you register for a course.  Be sure to consider the popular EDUX 9965: Teacher Empowered Learning course.

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