The summer is upon us! You have worked tirelessly for ten months. You deserve this break. Breaks aren’t only important because they give you the chance to decompress and recharge. They also create the space and the time to renew your enthusiasm for teaching and to replenish your reservoir for creative new ideas for your classes. Here are ten of my ideas for how to truly embrace your summer as a teacher and to return next year ready to take on the world. These ideas are in no particular order. I challenge you to make all 10 happen over the next two months.
Sometimes, a school’s approach to teaching and learning can feel scripted, predetermined, controlled. Don’t let your summer feel that way. At least once over the next two months, get in a car, in two shoes, on a bus, on a train…heck, on a plane even…and go on an adventure, not knowing exactly where you are going to end up. Keep the map in the glove box. Turn off your phone/GPS. Open yourself up to the possibility of finding something incredible and unexpected. You’ll be surprised by what this does to your senses and by the ideas, people, and places you find along the way that will influence what you want to do next year in your class.
Great teachers get ideas for their classes from disparate sources. At least once this summer, put this in to practice by finding a book that you would normally not read. Here is a short list of oldies, newies, and goodies:
- Nisid Hajari’s – Midnight’s Furies
- Italo Calvino’s – If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller
- Amy Krouse Rosenthal – An Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life
- Patricia Madsen’s – Improv Wisdom
- William Upski Wimsatt’s – Bomb The Suburbs
- Sasha Abramsky’s – The House Of Twenty Thousand Books
- Jessica Abel’s – Out On The Wire: The Storytelling Secrets Of The New Masters Of Radio
- Joy Williams’ – The Visiting Privilege
- Marlon James’ – A Brief History of Seven Killings
Wow! Does this get harder as I get older! What I love about this idea is that it pushes us to get out there in the world and into spaces where other people are – bars, museums, races, wineries, parks, concerts- so it is a double whammy. Making a new friend again, pushes us to use “muscles” that may have atrophied and will be put to really good use when you warmly greet your new class(es) of students come fall. Plus, new friends open up new worlds to us. Worlds that will find their way into our classrooms.
Do I even need to mention this one? Naps are so important. You have lost sleep over this past school year. While the science is out about whether you can actually ever make up that sleep, naps are always a good thing. Naps give your body a chance to recharge and your brain a chance to process and imprint experiences. In fact, our brain is the most active while we sleep! Never feel ashamed about taking a nap!
5. Write a letter to one of your former teachers
Summer is the perfect time to look up one of your teachers and reconnect. Share with him or her what you are up to and how much you appreciate what they did for you. To make this an even better experience, why not go and visit the teacher if you can? Take her or him out for coffee or lunch. Spend some time talking about ideas that you have for your classes. See what your former teacher thinks. If your former teacher is still teaching, what about striking up a partnership and connect your two classes/schools? William Upski Wimsatt says that we need to “water (our) mentors.” This is one of those times.
If you haven’t done it before, now is the time to do it. And don’t make a big deal about it. Journals can take many different forms. The great thing about keeping a journal as a teacher is that it is a conduit for all of the ideas that are in your head, and it allows you to practice what you want your students to be doing as well. I have this image in my head of teachers all over the country coming back in the fall with the journals they kept this summer as models for the kind of journal writing they would like their students to be practicing.
Journal writing should be fun, surprising, low-stakes, and personal. It is important that you make a commitment to it because the benefits of journal writing come from developing it into a practice. If you only do it once in a while, you will never truly realize its potential. I would recommend starting by literally setting a timer each day. Start by writing for ten minutes. If the timer goes off and you want to keep going, keep going, but be satisfied with writing for ten minutes. Then, as you develop this writerly muscle, extend the time. You may get to the point by the end of the summer where you no longer need the time as a prompt.
Here are some really fantastic journal ideas from Bernadette Mayer, a great contemporary poet/writer. You may want to try out these journal ideas out with your students too!
This one may be a bit redundant, particularly if any of these other ideas already do the job, but it is worth mentioning. While summer is definitely a time for familiar rituals and routines, it is also an important time to take risks…particularly as a teacher. Teaching at its heart is a creative endeavor. The teacher’s job is to design meaningful, interesting, challenging, and joyful learning experiences for and with students. This means that we must embrace the unknown, the unusual, and the new. Truly inspiring learning comes from taking a deep dive into new territory with both mind and body.
8. Say Yes And for a whole day
Here’s a way to put the last idea into practice. Come to think of it, you would need to say Yes And to do any of the ideas in this post. It comes from the world of improv. In improvisational theater, actors are encouraged to always accept and build on the offers of their co-actors. When we say Yes And, opportunities open up, people are drawn to us, problems are solved, and we strengthen connections. For one day this summer, put this principle into practice. Spend an entire day saying Yes And to your friends, your family…anyone you run into really. Note that I am not suggesting that you only say Yes. The And is incredibly important in this equation. The And allows you to accept the offer of the other person and build on it. See what happens. This will be excellent practice for when you start the new year with your students. Go here for a post I wrote on the power of Yes And in teaching and learning.
I am amazed at how powerful of a distraction my computer, phone, or tablet is. Just when I feel like I am being productive, Facebook, Twitter, Footytube, Netflix or a whole host of other sites pulls me away with incredible ease. It is insidious and kind of frightening actually. And the amount of time it can suck away! Hours just evaporate like they never even existed. And the end result of it for me is wondering what just happened. No lasting impressions. No meaningful experiences. A void.
Ok, I may be being a bit hyperbolic, but there is truth in what I say. So, for one day a week this summer, put the electronic time-sucks away, out of site and out of mind. Open yourself up to the sites, sounds, and information that is around you in people, places, and things. You’ll find that time changes, intriguing thoughts enter, and opportunities emerge. Distraction is the scourge of contemporary life and is particularly dangerous for teachers. It’s dangerous because in the moment it feels good and right, but in the long run, it fritters away a priceless commodity – time – and narrows our perception of what reality is. Don’t let that happen this summer.
10. Invite a colleague to plan a unit together
I would recommend doing this last one after you have put a number of the ideas above into practice. Now your mind is nimble, your body is rested. You are ready to jump back into being the creative curriculum designer that you are. Redesigning curriculum shouldn’t be an individualistic exercise. Bring a colleague or friend into the mix. Your friend or colleague can help you figure out how to overcome a seemingly insurmountable issue or can ask just the question you needed to be asked to figure out how to implement an excellent idea that you have.
When doing this kind of creative work, don’t forget to implement the ethic of Yes And. All curriculum ideas are great ideas. They just need to be massaged, played with, thrown around, and crafted to be brought down to the ground and implemented. Employing the Yes And allows you to do the tinkering needed to polish the rough idea to a high sheen.
There you go! Ten ideas for how to throughly embrace the summer as a teacher. Do you have other ways? Comment below to add them to the mix. I wish all of you a fantastic summer filled with enriching experiences, amazing naps, and intriguing ideas!