For me and most of my fellow Edunators, planning for the next school year starts before the lockers have finished slamming on the last day of school. Most great teachers have already begun thinking about next year, long before this one has finished. Hopefully, you’re able to unplug a bit and enjoy some of your summer.
During those precious few weeks between the official end of one school year and the start of another, an in no particular order, here’s some of the things I’m hoping to accomplish this summer – some of which may apply to you, too.
1.Reflecting on what worked….and what didn’t.
Every year I establish certain goals for myself. Sometimes it’s a method of instruction I want to get better at (this year I worked a lot on Kagan-style cooperative learning structures) and sometimes it’s more of a personal goal (getting the bosses paperwork requirements turned in time, for example). Regardless, I think it’s important to spend some time reflecting a little on what worked for us in the classroom this year. I know this past year my cooperative learning improved and I was happy with the ways I incorporated more text-based evidence and non-fiction writing. I’m not pleased however with some of the procedural happenings in my classroom – we need to be a bit more efficient with our use of supplies next year. I’m also really excited to incorporate more with Google Docs this upcoming school year, and will be looking to launch student led conferences as well.
If you’re looking for some ideas to help you reflect and possibly set some goals for next school year, check out my 30 Questions for Teacher Reflection article.
2.Creating a “relationship book”
I’ve moved my classroom entirely to Standards Referenced Grading, and use an online gradebook almost exclusively at this point, so the notion of a traditional “gradebook” is somewhat old-fashioned to me. Like the cassette tape, until recently I simply seen no need to tote around a red book with a bunch of numbers inside. That’s changing however.
Amongst other issues, I don’t care for grading because it’s inherently impersonal. It strips the love of learning and the humanness out of educating. So I think this year, perhaps in addition to my “grades” or perhaps in a separate volume all-together, I’m going to create a “relationship book”.
In it, I’m going to include various pieces of info about each student – or perhaps a picture or an icon to indicate pieces of information to me to help me keep these things straight. I generally do an OK job at learning a little about each of my students, but I want to make this process more systematic. I believe it will help keep me focused on getting to know each of my students and staying up to date with their lives. I’m excited about it as it’s something I consider very important, because I’m Sorry…They DO Have to Like You.
I’d like to include their likes and dislikes when it comes to learning, their passions outside of school, their family backgrounds, how they like to demonstrate their learning, how they view themselves and their goals for the year and beyond. At the advice of “The RTI Guy” Pat Quinn, I might actually include their “Love Language” as well (which I first became familiar with during pre-marital counseling my wife and I went through before our wedding).
3.Re-evaluating my ELOs
Over the last year, I’ve done some work for the Bureau of Education and Research and have been offering a workshop entitled Practical Strategies for Incorporating the Common Core State Standards into your Social Studies Instruction. As I outlined in this article, that basically entails requiring students to spend more time looking at primary and secondary sources, writing scholarly, questioning the historical record and incorporating more reading strategies into their work.
The problem is, none of my Essential Learner Outcomes (things I virtually “guarantee” all of my students will learn) represent that. They’re archaic. They’re flat out embarrassing. Sometimes I wonder just what the hell I was thinking when I decided they were so important in the first place. I have to fix this over the summer.
I know for many of you this is not an option. District curriculum writers, department chairs and other such folks determine what specifically that you are teaching. Hopefully you have some autonomy in determining which course objectives are worth “guaranteeing” that your students learn. Sometimes we teach what others tell us we have to…but we can always bring a little more zest to the things we deem truly valuable. After you determine what that is, consider….
You currently enjoy the sour fruits of this endeavor right now. I really need to do more writing this summer. Not because I think the world is somehow bettered because I have and not because I have some genius insight that will rescue children from despair. No, I need to do more writing because it causes me to be a more conscientious teacher. I’m a better educator when I’m putting my ideas out there for others to read. Writing helps me reflect, it helps me plan, it helps me set priorities and helps me take pride in who and what I am. I think all educators could benefit from writing more about their craft. Then again, I also think most educators could benefit from…
I’ve said it before in other posts, but if a doctor, lawyer, police officer or any other professional refused to read current literature, better themselves and keep up with the latest research in their field, you’d refuse their services and find a new provider. I know many teachers who work tirelessly to improve themselves, read constantly and are addicted to Twitter and other social media outlets to share their latest findings and keep up with what others are learning about our beloved profession.
I also know dozens of others who view “Professional Development” as something that happens once a month when the district shoves it down their throat. They say “Why in the world would I want to read about teaching? I do that for a living!”
Be it blogs, journals or the good old fashioned book, many teachers would benefit from spending a bit more time reading professionally over the summer. Of course if you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. So instead of simply reading, go tell somebody else about a great blog, book or hashtag you’ve recently discovered and encourage them to give it a try. They might resent you for it, but you probably already don’t like them anyway. Summer professional development is more than good idea, in my mind it’s a moral obligation. Still, that doesn’t mean you should spend some time….
6.Recharging batteries….by doing nothing productive
Go to a movie. Spend time with family. Play golf. Go to the beach. Drink wine. Whatever you do to recharge the old batteries, DO IT.
This profession is a tough one, even if it’s not for the reasons most people generally think of. While many jobs are certainly more physically exhausting, that sort of tired can be more easily replenished by resting up for a few days. Teaching is emotionally and spiritually exhausting. I spend an inordinate amount of time worried about the health and safety of a few students (and a few colleagues to boot). While I certainly do all that I can for them and would love to continue to do so given the opportunity, at some point I have to “unplug” from my work self and be about something else.
This summer I’m hoping to get some more exercise in and perhaps get in a little better shape. I’d love to spend some time and maybe take a trip with my dad. I’d like to work on my golf game and I’m currently planning a charity fundraiser for a cause near and dear to my heart. I love what I do for a living, but it’s important for me to work on myself some times. Summer provides a great opportunity for me to do that and ensure that when August roles around I’m ready to…
7.Accept responsibility for student learning
I consider this the first step to “Becoming the Edunator” and every year I force myself to go back and re-read my own work just to give myself a heavy dose of my rhetoric and ensure that I’m “practicing what I preach” so to speak. Everybody talks about the fact that it’s extremely difficult to be a great teacher, even an average one. The flip side to that is that in certain climates, it is unfortunately very easy to be a mediocre educator.
This is exactly why I believe every year teachers should “Accept Responsibility for Student Learning”. You have to essentially re-commit to the idea that 1) All students can learn at a high level and 2) your performance as an educator has a direct impact on how successful those students will be. Take the $10,000 Challenge and Stop Playing the Victim to ensure that when the next school year rolls around, you’re ready to ensure that in your classroom, “Not learning is NOT an option!”
I know, it’s bold rhetoric and it’s easier said than done. But if you do commit to these ideals, if you do set out to “Become the Edunator”, it makes this job that much more fulfilling. It’s a tough pill to swallow, fortunately we have a summer to do it.
More Edunating Stuff….