How Teachers can Stay Fresh During Summer Break

From the Principal's Office Updated June 11, 2015

As a former classroom teacher, I always remember making it to the end of the school year with a combination of exhaustion and relief. The final month of school often felt like a sprint to the finish as my colleagues and I worked hard to complete our expected curriculum, finish year-end assessments and enjoy our students’ end-of-the-year activities.

Then it arrived — the last day of the school year. That’s when we acknowledged that we had poured ourselves into the education of our students, and we experienced something priceless: feelings of pride and satisfaction that are unique to our profession.

Teachers always need to take some time off to rest and decompress from the school year, but it’s a good idea to spend some time re-engaging with your work. The summer represents a great opportunity to step back and look at the big picture. Keep these goals in mind:

Be voracious

Teachers should use summer to read broadly both in their specialty and outside the education realmWith the advent of the Internet, we can consume lots of information rather easily. Twenty years ago, we’d have to go to a library or bookstore but today it’s all there waiting for you to access it.

Be sure to spend some time reading as much as you can about your subject area. Don’t get too granular in your topics, but rather read as broadly as possible about the subject matter. It’s especially helpful to read the work of people contrary to your own beliefs about instruction. It’s a great way to keep yourself intellectually honest.

I tend to find the best books to read during the summer aren’t necessarily academic texts but rather those that tell stories. My favorite book along this line is “Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation” by Jonathon Kozol. This is simply the best book about the moral requirement of schools to care for all children.

Look outside the classroom

As teachers, we often tend to focus on education as being the be all and end all regarding relevant information. A great way to stay fresh during the summer is to read books and articles that are only loosely connected to education.

Examples could be biographies of compelling public personalities, analyses of critical social issues or the retelling of historical events. While this will not be connected directly to your specific classroom work, it will enable you to learn more and think with more depth. I can attest that some of my best learning has come from books not directly related to my classroom work.

Engage colleagues

I know my colleagues provide excellent opportunities to stay fresh and excited about my work. Getting together with them during the less busy summer is a wonderful way to stay sharp, but another way is to turn to social media such as Twitter or Facebook to find like-minded colleagues.

Twitter especially offers the opportunity to learn of and explore important educational work. The important thing to remember is that Twitter, with its 140-character “soundbites,” is only the start to learning more, and that you should pursue topics and public figures on your own outside of Twitter to learn more.

Find the best people in the world

No matter how strong you are in your classroom practice, there are always people out there who are doing it better. The summer is a great opportunity to find those people and reach out to them directly to pick their brains. A good resource to find excellent and strong colleagues is to see who has been recognized at the state and national level for superior practice.

You will then only be a few short keystrokes away from their email address. Reach out to them with your questions and ask for their feedback. The breaking down of distance and time barriers is a wonderful benefit of our “flatter” world, and this kind of activity will help to keep you interested, engaged and intellectually curious.

Take stock of what worked

Teachers should take stock of all their accomplishments when the school year is over.Take some time to review your lesson plans and take some notes. With the school year still fresh in your mind, now is a good time to document your latest successes and struggles. Make it a point to write down the lesson plans that really hit the nail on the head, those that

  • had the highest level of student engagement,
  • seemed to bring out the best response from your families, or were
  • well-received by your colleagues.

Your memory will grow dim as the summer begins, so do that note-taking now.

Start your calendar for next year

The end of the school year gives you the opportunity to look back immediately on the school year. Aside from recording your favorite moments and challenges, I suggest that you write down a draft yearly calendar for the upcoming year. You may want to consider changing the order of your units, or adding newer types of assessments. Regardless of what you decide to do, it’s important to look at the flow of the new year as soon as the old year is finished.

Send notes to your students

Another great thing to do immediately at the end of school year is to spend some time writing short notes to your hard-working students. Take a few moments each day to draft a handwritten note to each child who you think deserves some special recognition; it’s a perfect way to get their summer off to a great start.  Even though children may loath to admit it, they want (and hope for) the recognition of the adults in their lives. Taking a few moments each day creates that opportunity for many of your students.

Remember your staff

Schools are uniquely human enterprises that are fueled by positive emotion (and drained by negative emotion). A great way to finish up the school year is to recognize the hard work of the sometimes overlooked members of the school — the secretarial and custodial staff. Take some time on your way out the door to say thank you to them, or perhaps even give them a small gift. Their jobs are very often thankless, and a little bit of recognition goes a long way for them.

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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