If you’ve ever taught in a classroom, you get what few other people understand — there is no such thing as summer vacation. Yes, we do receive that precious eight to ten weeks (depending on where you live) of time without children in the months of June, July and early August. But, depending on where you are in your career and whether you’re working summer school, those months can look drastically different.
I’ve always loved the summer; not just because of the weather and the holidays (Hello, 4th of July!), but because of the time it gives me to rest, recover and reevaluate what happened in the past academic year. Each summer of my career has looked different, and this one is no exception.
For the first time in a while, I’ll be spending a majority of my summer taking care of my six-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. My official hashtag is #daddycamp2k16, in case you’re following me on Twitter. (Don’t worry — my wife is on standby should I need assistance.) I’ll also be attending the National Network of State Teachers of the Year conference in Chicago (you should too), sprinkling in some consulting work, family vacations, and professional development sessions to boot. See, no break really.
In between the tightly packed schedule I have for my children at ‘Daddy Camp’ and these other commitments, I plan on spending time getting better at the craft of instructional leadership. The off-season provides a perfect opportunity to build capacity for the coming year. In anticipation of this time, I’ve identified 6 core (I know — you’re tired of hearing that word) activities that have helped me improve between June and September for the better part of my 11 years in education:
Read. Read. Read.
Consume the newest and best books in education (I’d recommend books by Chris Emdin, Dr. Lisa Williams and Kendra Johnson, Rob Murphy, Elena Aguilar, Todd Rose, and Sir Ken Robinson), as well as your personal interests. Read articles related to your weaknesses (consistent grading for me), as well as your strengths (culturally responsive instruction). In addition to reading print texts, watch TED talks and listen to classic lectures and audio books (audible is a great resource). Reading, in its many forms, is the singular activity that has helped me to consistently get better.
Engage in conversations with everyone
After reading something great, you naturally want to share — so write a blog. Review the book. Submit an op-ed. Put your thoughts out into cyberspace. And when you see a conversation happening on Twitter or at a nearby Barnes and Noble, don’t be afraid to put your two cents in. Share what you know.
Write your thoughts
After reading and speaking, you might be full of ideas. This is the time to write. Write about what you’ve learned and how it can apply to your work next year. Write about the possibilities these new ideas give you. When you write to learn, the learning sticks.
What happened this past year? What worked? What didn’t work? Why did you succeed? Why did you fail? Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” You gain experience not by simply completing years, but by processing each one. If you don’t, you run the risk of having one year of experience 11 times, instead of having 11 unique years of experience.
We’re at our best and most creative when we’re allowed to think without limitations. I call that dreaming. What would be the perfect year for your students next year? What would make your year go viral? Get on the phone, or FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Hangouts with a trusted colleague and just dream with them. (Non-judgmental dreaming!)
Have non-education related fun
Please put the edu-speak and edu-reading down for a few weeks and just have fun. Re-engage with your kids and spouse who may not recognize you since you’ve been gone for ten months. Just kidding. But, not really. Go on a vacation, watch the best summer blockbuster, engage in your hobby of choice, and enjoy an evening of guilt-free stress eating. Disregard the last tip, unless you absolutely need to. Oh, you don’t? Ok, then never mind. Take some time to step away from the most emotionally expensive job that anyone can have. Your mind, body, soul, and next year’s students will thank you for it.
There is no perfect path to getting better, but there is a tried and true way to get worse: do nothing. Relax and enjoy every minute of the summer without processing the past year or preparing for the new one, and you might find yourself struggling to find your groove come August.
Children are our country’s most precious treasure. As the adults who are charged with improving their quality of education — and the quality of their lives — we should never stop learning how to be better at the most important job in the world.
Learning. Never. Stops.
So, after the graduation hats have been tossed, the keys have been returned to the overzealous chief custodian, and your door has closed for the last time, enjoy yourself for a few days. Then, let’s get back to work.
This work was made possible through support from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.