Say it out loud, S-U-M-M-E-R! Summer! Now close your eyes, and what do you see? What do you hear? I see a sandy beach. I listen to waves gently crashing on the shore. I’ll tell you what I don’t see—a classroom. I don’t hear bells ringing. And I don’t feel the restraints of a rigid schedule. Yes, summer is a very different time of the year for educators.
During the summer months, I use four techniques to keep me “chill.” These summer hacks guide my decision-making, maximize my vacation, and ease my return to reality in August. Each principle I list below can be employed for educator survival from August through June. All four items will lower your stress level and keep your students engaged.
Carve Out Time to Recharge
What should an educator do right after the school year ends? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. That’s right; I try to avoid anything related to teaching or school to take time out from the routine to recharge your batteries, as the end of the year can be unusually intense. Even just a few days can be rejuvenating. Case in point, if you teach year-round, schedule one or two days off and make a long weekend. This can be especially helpful for educators working into the summer session, needing a chance to reboot.
Similarly, during the middle of the semester, educators are frazzled. There are endless tests to grade, stacks of projects to evaluate, homework feedback to provide, office hours to keep, lab groups to debrief, while you’re expected at the same to craft engaging classroom activities. You get how overwhelming it all is because you live it.
When just thinking about the educator to-do list becomes too daunting for me, I schedule a night or two off and do nothing. You might want to watch a movie, listen to music, go out with friends. My suggestion is to do anything other than tending to your educator-related duties. You will feel fresher when you return to your responsibilities. Plus your students, your co-workers, and your loved ones will notice a little pep in your step after you take a breather.
Plan for Transitions
We all struggle with the back to school blues. The transitional period—the first week of fall classes—can deplete the life right out of educators and students. I approach this timeframe methodically when shifting gears from summer to school.
I’ve found I can stay calm throughout the year by having a plan whenever the routine changes for my students. I’ve come to expect chaos to ensue in the classroom pre- and post-exam, pre- and post-holiday, as well as before and after long breaks. So, during the summer, I consider ways to minimize disruptive transitions.
I consider implementing more student-centered instruction. Group work is excellent, as students typically prefer working with their classmates during these times. I include activities to get students physically moving inside or outside of the classroom. If you teach in a large space such as a lecture hall, force your students to go from digital to analog. Do a mid-lecture “check for understanding” using note cards, having students write with the traditional paper and pencil. I encourage you to think outside the box while working within your constraints. For instance, I direct students to switch seats with the person next to them because movement—big or small—helps break up the routine and burns off excess student energy.
Consider Energy Expenditure
Most students are mentally drained the day after an exam. It’s challenging for an educator to determine the plan for that dreaded day after. Starting new material is ideal, but would this be a good time to deliver a lecture rich in content and brimming with new concepts? Probably not.
Don’t underestimate the energy expenditure by your students after intense academic efforts like exams. Spend a little time during the summer months to plan post-high focus activities. Consider items that are low-stakes, but multi-tiered in structure, such as providing opportunities for web-based independent learning, or beginning the planning phases of a project are two examples of ways to deliver new content without overloading students. In return, you get the opportunity to focus on interacting with students during these activities, instead of lecturing to the masses
Throughout the year, we all want to deliver interactive lessons, create stimulating discussions, and facilitate activities that keep our students engaged. There’s a lot out there to help you do the things listed above, but how can you sift through all the options? Utilizing time during the summer months to sort through the possibilities enables me to select the best ideas and plan ahead.
I reach out to other educators, knowing there are innovative ideas just waiting to be incorporated into my class. I’ve asked other educators how they assign projects. When feeling uneasy about setting up a classroom discussion, I’ll meet with a co-worker known for being incredibly collaborative. Often, I’ll reach out to a colleague who teaches in a different subject area and put my own spin on what I learn to create a new best practice.
As we shift back to the school year, reflect on these four ways to spend your summer vacation to make things easier for you in the classroom. Happy educators can make for happy students, as well as create healthy environments in which students can thrive.
How was your summer vacation? What tips do you have for channeling that relaxed summer vibe during the school year? Post a comment in the space below, and I will be sure to connect with you.
Doug Petrick holds an Architectural Engineering degree from Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from California University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a high school Physics educator at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh. Doug regularly contributes to a series for educators on The Wiley Network offering practical advice and instructional strategies.
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