As another school year winds down, many teachers are envisioning all of the things they want to do (or NOT do) over the summer. With an extended student-free block of time and no assignments to grade, lessons to plan, or parents to call, the time off during summer offers so many opportunities for catching up!
There are projects around the house, places to travel, shows to binge-watch on Netflix, and sleep….oh yes, lots and lots of sleep!
And of course, catching up on planning.
Why it’s only a break from students, not work
The reality for many teachers is that it’s not actually a “break.” Many of us use that time to plan for the following year, take workshops and classes, or maybe create products for Teachers Pay Teachers.
During the school year, we’re presented with so many things we want to try out or change. But with unsurmountable loads of grading, returning emails, completing paperwork, and meetings, it’s nearly impossible to squeeze in anything new without giving up all of our weekends and evenings.
That leaves us with the summer when we can take the time to really examine these programs and practices that have caught our eye, and do so at a leisurely pace.
Because of this, summer can be the best time to:
- Rework old units/lessons
- Research to find supplemental materials
- Create supplemental materials
- Learn a new online program – grade book, communication system, software (Google or Microsoft)
- Read educational books
- Plan the entire year
- Rework classroom policies
And anything else we needed to take care of but never have time to do during the school year.
However, summer planning doesn’t always go as planned (see what I did there?). Here are two reasons why it often fails to meet our expectations, and what steps we can take to be more proactive.
1) You decide to take classes or attend conferences
I’m someone who LOVES professional development because I am a lifelong learner. Even though it results in missing a day or two from my students, I know that it’ll be worth it.
You may find it surprising that I typically don’t like PD during the summer. I mean, it seems like a perfect time, right? I just told you that summer is the perfect time to plan.
However, summer classes and conferences don’t always create the same results as if they were during the school year. Here’s why:
- We learn too much
- This is actually true about all conferences in that there’s a mind-numbing amount of material. It’s like an informational buffet, and while I can’t eat it all, I stuff myself to the point of discomfort to get my money’s worth.
- In the summer, this overload becomes more burdensome when our brains are technically on vacation. We find ourselves moving mentally at a snail’s pace while the material is hurled at us like a dodgeball.
- We forget or lose half of our materials after coming home exhausted
- Don’t lie – you know what I mean by this. Where do you stash those handouts and pieces of swag you collect throughout a conference? How often and how soon do you go back to those shared online files from various courses?
- When it’s over, we’re on our own
- This is a HUGE detriment in terms of online or in-person events. Sure, I might’ve been a good student and took notes – but now what? I’ll tell you what – time for you to put it aside for “later” and start your summer break!
- Or, if you do attempt to plan with the intention of implementing your learning, you probably don’t have someone to answer questions when you get stuck.
- We can’t contextualize it within our own teaching
- Wait, but didn’t I mention that there isn’t time to try out new things during the school year? Yes, but…
- If you take a class in June or July, but you don’t start until after Labor Day, chances are you’re going to have a hard time finding a way to apply your learning to your classroom. Either that or you’ve forgotten most of it when you get around to planning for back-to-school.
- When your learning is closer to the time you teach, you can see how it directly fits into what you’re currently doing or what your goals are.
2) Lack of motivation
So you’ve decided that this is going to be the year when you get your planning done! And you’ll also learn how to create Hyperdocs! And you’ll become Google Certified! And you’ll read the five educational books in your Kindle library that have been patiently waiting for you!
While many of us have good intentions for summer planning, we often don’t accomplish everything – or even most of what we want.
It’s SUPER hard to do think about school when good weather, mid-day naps, or staying home with our kids are calling our name. And we know that we deserve a break, so firing up our computer leads to hours on Youtube rather than searching for lesson plans.
And sometimes, we just don’t know where to start or don’t feel like doing it alone. If we couldn’t muster up the motivation to do it during the school year, what makes us think that we’ll be able to do it when we’re on our own?
Also, a lack of a pressing deadline or need for accountability can make it nearly impossible to push ourselves to work. If nobody told us that we have to do it or we won’t be paid for it, then why bother?
How to get past our own summer slump
If we know that summer is the most ideal time to get ahead on our planning, how do we keep ourselves from falling into a summer slump?
Reflect on what has and hasn’t worked during the school year
In my End-of-the-year Sanity Saver Challenge, Days 4-6 involve examining and reflecting upon our teaching practices. It’s important to take a long, hard look at your teaching and be honest about what you could improve upon.
Select one to two things that will have the biggest impact, and commit to working on those during the summer.
Go back and read blogs you’ve bookmarked for new ideas
Many teachers subscribe to educational websites or blogs or come across interesting articles that they’ve bookmarked. If this is you, then revisit those and see if anything sparks your interest.
If you don’t have any that you regularly read, I suggest starting with sites like Edutopia, Teaching Channel, Edweek, and KQED. I would also search for subject or grade specific blogs or websites like National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) for more tailored content.
Go through Teachers Pay Teachers for inspiration
When I knew that I wanted to do a dystopian literature unit with my accelerated students, I was at a loss because I couldn’t think of what standards and products my students could create. I wanted something meaningful and standards-aligned rather than just fluff!
Scouring through TpT really helped me see what was possible, and of course, I even purchased quite a few products!
To motivate yourself to rework or create new resources, set up a TpT shop and sell them
Alternatively, if you’ve already created amazing resources or have some ideas of your own, why not spiff them up to sell on TpT?
When I wanted to create a comprehensive unit for teaching introductions using the funnel method, I made sure it had great visuals and graphic organizers. I then packaged it up nicely and currently sell it on TpT.
A bonus of doing this is that it motivates you to elevate the type of products you create, which can, in turn, spur more resource creation during the summer. Few things get your creative juices going than the possibility of making some extra cash on the side!
Find other teachers who want to participate in a book club and read an educational book together
There are so many books that I see other teachers on Instagram reading, and I always wish that I had enough time to read them myself!
Well, summer is a great time to do this! Bring the book with you to the beach, on a road trip or plane ride, or just in bed. Feeding your mind and soul with information on how to be a better teacher can be the fire you need to plan for the following school year.
You could also take it to the next level by starting a book club. It won’t be hard to find other teachers who are seeking the same knowledge as you or have seen their own colleagues reading these books. Why not bring them together and create meaningful conversation around a great read?
Find like-minded educators who also want to plan
This one is my favorite because it combines all of the above. Working with other teachers during the summer is a sure-fire way to get your planning done.
Unfortunately, we sometimes can’t or don’t want to work with the colleagues in our school. Maybe they’re working a second job or traveling, or you need a break from them.
The problem is, you still want the collaboration and motivation to create a new grading policy, spruce up your syllabus or parent newsletter, or even map out your classroom layout. However, you may not know anyone interested in anything to do with school over the summer.
The solution? Seek out other educators online who are also spending time planning. They don’t necessarily have to be working on the exact same topic or product as you, but just knowing that others are balancing rest and resetting with creating killer resources can help you stay in the game.
These are such great tips to be smart about planning over the summer. You are so right when you say that summer is a break from students, not from work. However to keep it balanced, I have a summer plan of my own. I spend the first 6 weeks or so unwinding, soaking in the sun, reading good books, going on vacation and spending time with my family and friends. Once August 1st comes, it’s over!!! I get in PLAN MODE. I don’t mind PD in August when I am refreshed and rejuvenated to learn something new and collaborate with colleagues. I get all my materials and resources ready for the new school year. And I’m such a geek because I’m always excited to head back to school.