Summer is such a gift. That opportunity to reset, to relax, to engage in other passions and hobbies. It’s great. But only if we use it well.
In the past, I’ve found myself frustrated because I’m not making the most of my break. (I know, big problem, right?)
But here’s the thing: I hate wasting a break.
No, I don’t end every break rethinking how I should have done things, but I know that a passive approach rarely yields desired results.
This week is my first week of summer, and I’m determined to figure out a way to make this summer a great one. It shouldn’t be that hard, right? I’ve spent some time thinking through what I can control to help this summer be a great one. Here are a few of the guidelines I plan to use to keep me focused throughout the summer of 2017.
Actually take a break
(This one is really easy and really tough. I’m putting it first because it’s the one I’m most likely to forget this summer.)
Slow down. Slow way down. Do something that has nothing to do with your work. Read a book. Sit by the pool. Enjoy time with friends and family. Press into a hobby that the school year keeps you from. It will make you better at your work when you return. You’ll have experiences that you can pull from and stories to tell. Both make you a better educator.
Challenge yourself as an educator
There are so many ways to grow yourself over the summer. Jump into a Twitter chat, read a book (maybe even one just for fun), join a Voxer group, attend a conference or visit an EdCamp. Whatever it is, find something to push your thinking this summer. We so rarely have a chance to pull back from the busy nature of the school year. Don’t miss the opportunity to do something great with the gift of time we have over the summer.
Establish a new habit
Making the choice to do something different and actually developing the habit of doing something different are totally different practices and experiences. Summer provides enough margin for most educators that we should take advantage of the time and use it to our advantage. What do you want to work into your daily routines that isn’t there now?
Invest at home
For me, this is a big one. The school year is something that I love, but it really takes it out of me at times. We get overextended for all sorts of reasons throughout the school year. To say the least, our work in education is tough. And we’re not wired up with infinite energy. We absolutely have limits to what we can give. Probably the most challenging tweet I saw last year asked, “Are you giving so much at school that you don’t have anything left to give when you get home?” I can’t recall where I came across it, but I’ll never forget that idea.
During the summer, I don’t have to balance that. I can be fully present, but I have to choose to do that. So here’s my little pep talk for myself: Ignore your work email for a bit. Maybe go a whole day or two without even checking it. Whatever you do, do something with the people who matter most to you. Then, do more with them. They’re what matter most. /PepTalk
Create a plan for disrupting the status quo next year
I love that we get that new year feel twice a year in education–once in August and again in January. Just like a new year’s resolution, any change we want to make next year isn’t likely to be the result of a simple choice or two. It’s within reach, but it’s going to take a plan. More than a resolution, I hope you take next year head on. What is it that you want to reimagine about the school experience you provide for others? Do you want to drop grades and give students better feedback? Trade status quo faculty meetings for personalized PD? Have kids show up to a classroom that doesn’t look at all like what they expect and gets them excited about learning next year? I hope your last school year was incredible, but I hope that 17-18 is even more amazing! Don’t wait to see if your August PD is going to set you on a course for an amazing school year.
What else do you do to make summer great? If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments below.
I hope you have a wonderful summer!
If you like what you’re reading here, consider checking out my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–Imagine It Better–that discusses how we can and should disrupt the status quo in education. Read more about the book here or find the book on Amazon.
It’s May. It’s the end of the school year. And for many, it’s a time that pushes educators into survival mode.
A while back, I got to thinking about how much deliberate effort is spent on getting the first days of school just right. The tone we set during that first week does more for campus culture and climate than maybe any other week. It’s absolutely right for us to be deliberate and particular about how we begin the year, but for all the fuss about how we start things off, I rarely hear much about ending the year well. We cannot afford to do anything other than continue to pursue our students. Our students and colleagues are worth more than our survival mode efforts. We can make just as great an impact in our last days with students as we did in our first hours together.
Never stop getting to know your students (even at the end of the year). Invest in them. Let them know that they are loved.
Much like a successful start to the year, a successful end to the year is an active pursuit. I reached out to educators on Twitter and asked them what they do to make the end of the year great. Here’s what they had to say (in their exact words, rough draft form of course). Take some time to dig through their ideas. There’s something amazing for you in there. And share your ideas afterward. We’ll all benefit from you sharing your ideas for finishing the school year well!
I try to give them the most control they’ve had all year. Currently, some are doing TED talks, other classes will be designing lessons to teach for the full class period (groups). It is time for students to share back their learning, and teach each other. By teaching lessons, students gain insight into instruction, put content into their own terms, and as a bonus: they learn how tough it is to be a teacher!
We make memory necklaces. Each student creates a signature bead from sculpy clay. They make sure to create a bead in this style for each member of our classroom community. We then have a sharing circle where each first grader receives a bead from each class member( teachers and IAs too) . Everyone has a keepsake to wear which reminds them of their special year together.
We do a economics unit and create a popcorn business. We go out to a local business called The Popcorner to see how they run the popcorn business. We also go to the bank and learn about taking out a loan. We pretend sign our start up loan. We vote on where the profits should go. We have donated to Jump Rope for Heart, tornado victims, local library. Each year it is something different.
Since my subject is not tested until May, we really don’t have a lot of time to complete all the fun things on my list. In saying that, the last couple of years my teammates had a great idea – to complete STEM activities after our STAAR test. This year we are putting a spin on it… we will have a competition! For instance: Teacher A will hold a competition with STEM activity 1 in her classroom, Teacher B will hold a competition with STEM activity 2 in her classroom, Teacher C will hold a STEM activity 3 in her classroom, and Teacher D will hold a STEM activity 4 in her classroom. Learners will be able to choose which activity they want to complete with a team. They loved it when it was just in our classroom, so I anticipate this being even more fun for them!
During the last few days, I will also have my students complete a survey so I can gather feedback on my teaching, lessons, and content. I will send a similar survey to my student’s parents as well for their feedback on my communication, use of social media, their likes, and dislikes about our class, etc. to help me be improve.
Also, I recently found an awesome article (http://www.teachhub.com/top-12-effective-end-year-activities). It has some fantastic ideas for the end of the year! My favorite is “let the kids teach class” and “ask students to write letters to your future students.” Both of these are very meaningful. I NEED to fit at least one of these in!
When I taught 7th grade science (non-tested), I put together an after-school group and they created a video for my incoming 7th graders. It was amazing and they loved the experience. Also with this grade level and at the end of the year, I had my students attend “medical school” while we covered every human body system, which just so happens to be my favorite content area.
I typically have my students complete a power point presentation reflecting back over the year (favorite lessons learned, highlights, pieces of advice, etc.). I enjoy completing a book study with my students as well. In the past we have looked at Sean Covey’s book 7 habits of highly effective teens. Since my students aren’t quite teens we read together and discuss the 7 habits. Then they take their copy of the book with them.
We research a Famous American throughout the last two weeks of school. As the year gets crazy with end of the year assessments and scheduled chaos, the kids have a focus. We have a wax museum one of the last 3 days of school to showcase our learning.
We look at their overall growth, goals, tests scores, reading level, math level… we start talking about goals for ieps next year as well….. this builds confidence… we then review this at the beginning of the year to remind them of the possibilities.
I used to do camp for a week. It was like a day camp in the classroom. We’d still learn, but in short lessons along a theme. I did Camp Ohana, with Elvis music and Hawaiian activities, I did Camp lickity split with tons of popsicle stick activities. Camp names! Lots of good memories all around!
Collette Lenarz, School Social Worker (@collenarz)
Checking in, a count down of things we “get to do” before summer arrives (eat lunch with friends, spend time with our fav staff, make memories, etc…), we also have an end of the year fishing/picnic day for all of our students that receive sped services; we let them know that learning is hard sometimes and they came to school daily and challenged themselves, overcame obstacles and worked hard. Students, sped teachers, and paras all come along, we play bags, fish, BBQ and have a kick ball tourney…playing together to celebrate the year!
1. In mid-Feb., we partnered w/ another elem school in another state and embarked on a “Work Hard/Play Hard” Challenge. The challenge was for students to accomplish 10,500 pieces of proficient/distinguished work. For every 300 pieces they collected, they earned a puzzle piece that revealed part of the “play hard” activity. The puzzle pieces are displayed on a large bulletin board at the entrance. Once the puzzle is complete the entire school will enjoy the activity! 2. We just had a community kickball game called “The Green Patch” game b/c it’s played on the corner of Green/Dickinson St. Families love it! 3. We purposely focus on relationship building and out of the box thinking just like we did at the beginning of the year. 4. We stick to the fundamentals – relationship building, expectations, and working hard and playing hard.
We do a house challenge to motivate and keep our 8th grade invested the last 6 weeks. They have a blast as we split them into 4 “houses,” do a weekly challenge, keep points for academic and behavioral success, and do house team prizes!
Continue the high fives, fist bumping and name recognition. Also, push to find the sleeper, quiet kiddo that may need some help coming out of his shell. Can’t forget the teacher support and recognition!
Continue building on existing relationships by having intentional conversations. I focus a lot on what they’re going to do with family, how they’re going to re-energize for the next school year, and let them know that I can’t wait to see them next school year (or wish them well for their future if they’re moving on). I want them to know that I value them and their education but also (and just as important) that I value the time that they will have away from the formal educational setting. Family time, and time to re-energize away from school is so important.
Relationships! Our 5th graders have a school dance the last week to build last memories as well as a celebration that mirrors a graduation of sorts.
Also, on the final day we do “bump up day” where each grade gets to go see the teachers and grade level they will be in next year. During this time the students currently in the grade have left cards or messages of some sort for the next group of students coming in.
KN students do a end of year song celebration inviting parents to come and celebrate the end of the year.
As a school we have celebrations that recognize the hard work and achievements of students. This ranges from awards ceremonies where students are recognized by grade level and content areas to our field day activities. We have field day activities for each grade level where we all go off campus and spend a day having fun and being with school friends.
In my district, middle school is a quick two years because we only have grades 7 and 8. This makes our school more of transition time for students than anything and because of this we have to help orient students quickly. We do this though school videos and school tours for the incoming 7th grade students. In the middle of May all 6th grade students from our feeder intermediate campus will tour our school during the school day. These incoming students will also watch videos made to show the school in more detail as well as with tips and tricks from current middle school students. The current 6th grade students like this because they are able to see what is going to occur in middle school before summer begins and the current middle school students like this because they are able to be he experts and share their knowledge about their school.
As the principal I encourage my teachers to end the year on a high note by trying new and different teaching styles and approaches. State assessments have ended and the month of May is a great way to try a flipped unit, a PBL unit, incorporate genius hour activities, or even practice using learning stations. I find the teachers are more willing to try new things in May because they are not worried about a state assessment. What I have observed is the teachers see their students having fun with the different approaches to teaching and learning because it is not the same routine they have come to know. As a result of this willingness to “experiment” with their teaching, the teacher is more likely to make adjustment to their teaching the following year. This helps end the year on a high note for the students and the teachers.
Our seniors end the year with a service day. They volunteer at various places around the community. This has proven valuable for the students and local organizations. We have received multiple letters from community organizations thanking the seniors and asking that more seniors return the next year. This experience leaves the students with a good feeling as they graduate and move on to the next phase of their lives.
There are SO many great ideas here. Reach out to the authors of these ideas. Collaborate with them. Follow them over the last month of the year on Twitter and see what all they are doing to make the last days of the school year GREAT for students!
I love this video. Jason Mraz is playing a show, and when he realizes there’s a guy playing a shaker in the audience, he takes a risk and invites him onto the stage. I think there’s a lot we can learn from it. But first, watch the video:
I love the way Mraz is surprised by the brilliance that Stan brings to the performance–even to the point where people thought he was planned to be art of the show.
When I see this video, I can’t help but think that this is what quality risk taking looks like in education. It’s not an uncalculated shot in the dark (which would be an irresponsible sort of risk to take). This risk taking is the kind that could pay off in a huge way for a student. It’s the moment when you could choose to send him out if class but instead you find a way to leverage the energy in the room for greatness. That doesn’t happen without risk. And the reality is this: We won’t reach some of our students if we fail to take some risks.
I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. This week, we were challenged to write posts in under 200 words. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education, and look for the #IMMOOCB1, #IMMOOCB2, and & #IMMOOCB3 for more of these short posts.
A while back, someone invited me in to help support a new chat that was starting up. I had spent time in a few chats, but although I knew it felt like I was learning a great deal, I sure didn’t think anything special was coming out of my engaging online that would make someone notice let alone recognize and invite me into a new chat. But someone saw something in me and asked me to be part of something new.
As a result, I’ll never be the same. And not just as an educator.
I think we underestimate our power as educators, as people to speak powerfully into another person. At least I do at times. And on the one hand, it feels like nothing, right? An invitation to join in seems so insignificant that I forget the power that we have to speak hope into situations, to speak life into those we are in contact with until I’m on the receiving end of the conversation. But I can think of several times when something that probably seemed like nothing to the speaker left significant, positive, life-giving impact on me, and I know that I need to stop erring on the side of caution, of reluctance to step out into a bit of vulnerability, and make this a significant part of my regular routine.
But I don’t want to just leave it at that. Acknowledging that invitations are powerful and that change is needed isn’t enough. I need to make a habit of including this communication, and I’d like to share a few ways I think we can make a positive impact with a simple invitation.
Invite someone to critique something you are working on
It’s not always fun to have a critical eye on your work, but asking someone to look over your shoulder to help you refine something that’s important to you is a big deal. To me, it’s a great honor to help someone accomplish a goal that has personal or professional important, and so often as educators our work has both components.
Ask someone to share their voice and expertise in conversation
I host a weekly Twitter chat with my friend and colleague Jeremy Stewart, so this is an easy place, but it’s still one I’ve neglected. I need to be better about thinking through the topics we are discussing and intentionally engaging those who have so much to offer in that conversation. Understandably, most people aren’t hosting chats, but I think there’s an easy face to face parallel; as conversations come up on campus, bring those informed voices into the conversation and take a moment to explain why you brought that person in before or after. It’ll make a difference.
If you blog, invite someone to write with you or to guest post on your blog
Most educators who are blogging are doing so to share the ideas they’ve been mulling over or sort through their learning. I’ve been awful at doing this, so I’m sharing it not only as an idea for others, but also as a call to action for myself. What a great opportunity to share that space and encourage another educator to connect and share!
Here’s our reality: We cannot do our work in isolation. We fool ourselves into thinking we can from time to time, but each time, after we’ve hit the wall (again), we remember that we need others. Take time to get ahead of the curve and invite others into something that matters to you.
When we meet students under the most ideal circumstances, we know a lot about them. We know about their interests, their family life, their academic performance history, and their behavior at school. We know about what books they like, what works for them, what not to try with them, and what might really push their buttons. When we’re working in the ideal, we know enough that we don’t have to make any assumptions as we prepare to educate the student.
But, all too often, life is not so ideal.
So we set out to do our best with less than an ideal amount of information about students. We try to get to know them as well as we can as soon as possible. We try our best, and in most cases, achieve remarkable results in rapid time. Teachers–you are incredible in your ability to work with so many variables that seem to always be changing as you educate the students you are given.
At some point, though, assumptions begin to creep in and fill the gaps in what we know about our students. I think they’re even made with the best of motivations so that we can serve students as well as we can as soon as we can.
Maybe it’s when things get busy. Maybe it’s when we get tired. At some point, we slip up and do the thing we said we wouldn’t–make an incorrect assumption about the student, and we have to work our way out of the unintended consequences of that assumption.
I’m not going to spend time listing out the ill advised assumptions that are sometimes made. They are out there, and they are too common. What I’d rather focus on is what we can do differently.
What if we committed to making these two assumptions about everyone we interact with at school?
People are doing the best they can.
When you know better, you do better.
I’m not asking you to be naive or to live with your head in the sand. I know that there are exceptions to nearly every rule, but this isn’t a post about those outliers. This is about the everyday. This is about how granting grace to each and every person with whom we interact–even if they’re the fiftieth person who’s doing that thing that annoys us that day.
Operating out of these two assumptions is about not letting little things get to us. It’s about believing that kids can (and will) do better when we teach them. It’s about how we should stop looking at the half empty/half full glass and get busy filling people up.
What if you approached each and every day with the attitude that students were doing the best they can? What would change?
Think about it. Tomorrow, what would change if you moved through your day with those two assumptions?
People are doing the best they can.
When you know better, you do better.
How would you respond to misbehavior?
How would you intervene when you noticed academic struggle?
How would you handle minor misbehaviors that you allow to get to you over time?
I’ll be the first to admit that changing a habit isn’t easy. But this is worth it.
If we made this change, I think our schools would be different. I think they would be better.
Even if things aren’t bad now–even if they’re great now–defaulting to these two assumptions changes our posture as we educate students. Every kid deserves a fresh start with us each morning. Every kid deserves a chance to learn in an environment that’s going to push him and support him as he takes on new challenges. Every kid deserves to be known. Each kid deserves a chance.
We can be the ones to make the difference. We can imagine it better. We can change their world for the better at our schools. Our kids deserve it.
At the very least, I’m there before school, during every passing period, in the cafeteria at lunch, and at parent pickup after school. (Ok, I’m expanding to include some of our common areas, but work with me here.) Part of my job in each of those locations is to look for any issues–times where students aren’t meeting campus expectations–but while this is important, it’s not exactly the sort of life giving work that I wanted to do when I grew up.
Over time, I began to wonder how I could use this time differently. I needed to accomplish the initial goal, but I wondered if I could repurpose or reframe my time in the hallways to make it more than just enforcing expectations.
Going into this year, I wanted to find ways to make my interactions more positive with students. I’m one who believes there’s great value in initiating positive interactions with students, and it always frustrated me when I felt like all I did during a passing period was remind students to be on time, wear their IDs, and enforce the dress code.
So I set out to try something different. I’ve been trying these ideas out over the past week. Some are easier fits than others for the first week, but I’ve tried each. Because so many educators have time assigned to be in visible in the hallways, I want to share them (and I want to know what you’d add to the list). Here are five things I’ve tried.
FIVE WAYS TO INITIATE POSITIVE CONVERSATIONS
1) Address a student by name during each passing period. I’m not great with names. Right now, I know a lot of names, I know even more faces, and they’re slowly matching back up; still, the process is slow for me. This active step helps me constantly push the number of student names I can easily recall up. If you see someone you know, ask him or her how the day is going. If you don’t see anyone you know, learn a name. Students often walk the same routes. Get to to know them as they move past your location in the building.
2) Hold a door open for students. This afternoon, I held the door open for students as they left toward our parent pickup area. It created a natural conversation space for me to interact with students, and some positive conversation came out of it that wouldn’t have otherwise. As an administrator, the perception can grow among students that my job is to correct mistakes. Of course addressing students who are not meeting campus expectations is part of my job, but it’s far from the entire (or even the majority) of what I do. Holding open the door puts me in a place of service to students. I like that.
3) If you’re on a campus with athletics programs, wish students good luck at their events on game day. We have close to 500 freshmen on campus, and seeing the volleyball, football, and cross country athletes in their respective gear has already helped me learn several names during time in the hallways. By no means am I saying reduce students to their involvement in extracurriculars, but I’m far from the first to know it’s a great foot in the door to get conversation going with students.
4) Thank students for meeting expectations. This seems odd when I mention it to some people, but I’m a big believer in taking time to provide positive reinforcement for our students who choose to meet our expectations (and yes, this includes everyone from the ones who often struggle to those who could teach the expectations to others). In a seven period day, students could encounter nine sets of expectations (one for each class, one for the cafeteria, and one for the hallways; I’m sure I could list more…). Getting this right is no happy accident, and rewarding students with a bit of acknowledgement shows that we are noticing their work do do things the right way. I think that matters.
5) Ask a consistent question and notice when you get an irregular response. For me this revolves around student IDs. Our students are expected to wear their school IDs when on campus (much to the chagrin of some), but everyone forgets daily expectations from time to time. I regularly ask the same basic question–“Sir/ma’am, do you mind putting on your ID for me?” No, it’s not the most direct way to communicate the “put your ID on” message. Yes, they can say, “No,” in response, but I’m good with that. It’s actually that way by design. You see, what students see as a simple question about a campus expectation I use for much more. I’m constantly looking for students who might not react appropriately so that I can intervene and figure out what’s going on. Maybe life got turned upside down since school ended the day before. Maybe something’s going on between this student and another. Maybe the student missed breakfast for one reason or another. Asking a consistent question helps me intervene when bigger issues may be at play. It has a fringe benefit of identifying students who might need some coaching as to how to address adults well (which happens if I consistently get less than ideal responses to my question). Either way, it’s informing my next steps, which I like.
What other ideas do you have for engaging in positive interactions with students? Share them in the comments or get in touch with me on Twitter (find me here). Hope your time in the hallways is well spent!