Teachers: Your Top 15 Summer Activities for a Great School Year


 

Teaching is one of the noblest professions known to man that brings many challenges and benefits. One of the attractive benefits of being a teacher, beyond the love of working with young people, is the opportunity to have time in the summer to pursue other interests, hobbies and pastimes. Moreover, the summer is also an extremely valuable time for educators to immerse themselves in various activities to position themselves and their students for an outstanding school year. Below are 15 of the best measures teachers can take during the summer that will pay off in time and efficiency.

YOUR GROWTH
 

Teachers tend to be life-long learners and often instill this value in their students. However, the demands of the school year often make it challenging for teachers to really take the time to grow. Here are a few things you can do over the summer to keep learning.
1. Reflect: Summer is a great time for teachers to reflect on the past school year. Looking back over the course of the entire year ask yourself these several questions below:

  • What went well? How can I make those things better and incorporate them in other activities?
  • What needs to be improved? Make a list of ways to make those improvements and put plans in place.
  • Think back to some of you most successful lessons. What specific components led to the success and can you use them elsewhere?
  • Have you considered your relationships with both students and parents? Have you conducted surveys with these two groups to confirm your perceptions and discover additional information?
  • Anything you can do better? Can you do a better job of communicating, asking questions, anticipating issues? How?

2. Read: It sounds simple but reading is a great way to grow. Check out the New York Times Best Seller List for books of interest from a personal or a professional level. Visit and read educational sites such as ASCD,  Education Week,  School Leaders Now,  Ed Week Teacher,  Edudemic, We Are Teachers,  and Edutopia just to name a few! The number of interesting topics that can extend your knowledge in useful ways is amazing. On these sites, you can find an unlimited number of education-related articles and blogs as well as others that inspire contemplation about topics in education in new and engaging ways that will challenge you as an educator.

3. Professional learning: Take a class or a workshop to extend your knowledge in an area of professional interest. Universities and community colleges offer a wide variety of educational opportunities on campus and on-line. Your school district may offer summer workshops or training activities and even pay you to attend! Neighboring districts may have summer offerings and would welcome your participation. Your educational service center or information technology site may host summer growth opportunities for teachers from districts they service often at no charge. Consider hosting an educational workshop for other educators; you may well have a unique skill set in the profession from which others can benefit. Check out the Top 50 Teacher Websites for Seriously Dedicated Teachers! On-line resources for teachers allow you to design and pursue your own areas of growth; turn this new ability into an opportunity for other educators. Your knowledge, expertise, and experience are priceless assets that make you a very valuable resource for fellow teachers. Consider writing a blog. Again, you are likely to make a valuable contribution to the growth of other educators and the preparation in dong so is invaluable to your own professional growth.

YOUR TECHNOLOGY 

 
Technology is in almost every activity that is part of our everyday lives. Schools, in particular, have embraced the use of digital resources in many ways and the more technically proficient a teacher is the more efficient and time saving they will be. Here are a few suggestions below you can apply to incorporate more technology:

4. Your website: If you have a website the summer is a great time to review it and make any necessary updates and revisions. A teacher website is a great tool for communicating expectations and procedures. It is also handy to list contact information and provide links to class resources and information. Make sure your site provides a friendly and modern user experience. There are all kinds of resources online, or you can work with your district technology people or even students for assistance. Ensure information like names, dates and contact information is current. Replace old resources that are not used or are no longer relevant and keep things new and fresh so kids and parents have a reason to keep visiting. Doing this in the summer allows the website to serve you well throughout the year. Here are some topics to consider including on your page: 
 50 Ideas for Your Class Web Page.
5. Network on Twitter: Twitter has quickly become an excellent tool for connecting with other educators directly; follow posts/blogs/articles of others; participate in community discussions that help to keep educators abreast of emerging topics and trends in the field; and stay in touch with the latest news in education. Since you can access Twitter from mobile devices, it is a convenient way to monitor various subjects. Below are three sites that identify some of the top educational Twitter feeds:
15 Top Educators to Follow on Twitter in 2017
100+ Education Twitter Accounts to Follow
33 Twitter Accounts You Should Be Following 
Take a look at these sites a pick the Twitter feeds that make sense for you!
6. Play with apps and other new technology: Summer is a great time to download and experiment with educational apps as well as any applicable technology you have come across. By learning new technologies in the summer, you will have time to incorporate them during the upcoming school year. In contrast, once the school year has started, it is challenging to learn the latest tech tools or have the opportunities to implement these time-saving efficiencies in your work, so start early! Educational apps can provide great value and save time and effort if you have vetted and planned fro them. Spend some time exploring educational apps at these sites below:
Teacher Recommended: 50 Favorite Classroom Apps.
Get Smart: The 25 Best Educational Apps for iPhone and Android
7. Organize your email:  Take some time and get your email in order. The clutter and disorganization that develops over time can get in the way of your efficiency and effectiveness. Below are a few tips to make life easier in the world of email:

  • Delete old stuff you do not need. Put items you want to save for later use or reference in a folder. Otherwise, you risk the physical world equivalent of putting snail mail on the kitchen table and letting it stack up day after day. 
  • Unsubscribe to feeds you do not want or need. You are often "subscribed" automatically at some sites or agreed to subscribe long ago and no longer find the information useful. 
  • Consider three email accounts: One for business, one for your personal email and one for bulk email. Your business account is used for all school related correspondence. Your personal account is for friends, children and your significant other to send emails. Finally, your bulk account receives everything else including subscriptions that you do want, promotions and social feeds. The bulk account is the account you provide to businesses and organizations you interact with. This system will allow you to quickly and conveniently sort through the email that is a priority to you.
  • Avoid being a slave to monitoring your email and responding immediately. Consider setting time aside each day to check your email and respond only to those that are of top priority. Perhaps checking first thing in the morning, late morning, late afternoon and evening and turning off all notifications will give you peace of mind and permit you to respond selectively to the emails that you find most important. Don't live in your inbox!
  • If it takes more than five sentences to respond, put the email in a folder and mark it as a "to do" for later. Of course, you should immediately attend to an urgent email.
  • Schedule emails to be sent later rather than immediately. Emails sent at 6 AM are much more likely to be read than those sent at 4 PM. Again, you may need to send a high priority email immediately.

8. Learn more about your grade book and other electronic resources provided by your district: The electronic grade book provided by your district is likely much more of a tool than you realize, and most assuredly has more capabilities than simply grades and attendance. Most likely, you can find demographic data on students; communicate with parents; create instructional, intervention and homework groups; design and save lesson plans; collaborate with colleagues; build seating charts; generate numerous reports. Take some time to check out the full potential of your system. Additionally, your school district provides a variety of other technology resources for your use. Like the grade book, these resources are often under-utilized because users are simply are not aware of everything they have to offer. Many districts have employee "kiosks" that contain numerous resources in a district intranet. Now that you have a little time, explore the capacity of these resources. You will likely find a number of time-saving resources that you did not know were at your disposal!

9. Work on your educational resource library: As teachers, we all have various websites, videos, images, narratives, artifacts and other resources stored digitally. Summer is a great time to make sure these materials are organized for quick and convent access throughout the year. It is also a good time to delete older items that are no longer useful or relevant. Most significantly,  explore new resources to add to this important instructional portfolio.

Your Students

 
10. Review assessment data: It is important to review your students' historical assessment data prior to the start of the school year. As soon as you have access to your roster, it is a good idea to review all historical test data available, so you that you are prepared to meet the educational needs of every student from day one. Depending on the grade level you teach you may want to review kindergarten readiness, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, AIMSWB, DIBELS, Terra Nova, STAR and others third party assessments that your district uses with younger students. If you teach high school, test data from the suite of ACT or SAT products are relevant. State assessment data provides invaluable information. Even if you do not teach in a tested discipline, ELA information and math skills can provide important information for your planning. Many districts design and implement locally created common assessments that follow curriculum maps. Student performance on these assessments, as well as those previously mentioned, can reveal as detailed as the specific standard that each child is yet to master: data that helps you make informed decisions about your instructional strategies for the upcoming year. Here is an interesting article about using standardized test data to guide your instruction.

11. Review IEP/504/WEPs: Again, once you have your roster, it is imperative to review these documents for every child that has one of these plans. You are required by law to provide the accommodations on these blueprints. Additionally, teams that design these plans analyze all available data for each student and tailor the plans to serve the best interest of the child when properly implemented. By doing your work ahead of time, you can evaluate how to best accommodate the needs of these students.

12. Extra help schedule for students: Think through when you can make yourself available for students who need extra help during the year. Consider the system you used during the previous year and reflect on its effectiveness. Will you be available before or after school? Which days? Are you willing to collaborate with your students in an online discussion? Will you provide extra sessions prior to tests? It is important to make these decisions prior to the start of the year and make the parameters you have set clear to students and parents.

13. Communication:  How do you plan to communicate with students and parents. Consider how you will share information about the class at the beginning of the year and how communication will take place throughout the year. From day one, you should clearly indicate to parents and students how they can get information about your class and how you intend to communicate with them as the semester progresses. You may want to share all kinds of information with parents and students including upcoming tests and assignments; announcements; field trip and special event information; "kudos" for a job well done; and changes in the schedule just to name a few. Will you use email, text or another outreach medium? Will you post information on your class website or on a social media account like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter? Have you considered using Skype for virtual conferences? Will you use social media at all, and if you are planning to, have you researched the benefits and pitfalls? Look at the communication plans of your colleagues and do not be afraid to borrow good ideas! Here are a few concepts to take into account when communicating with parents:
7 Effective Parent Teacher Communication Tips.

Your Responsibility
 

14.School and district policies: To protect yourself and others you should ensure you are familiar with school building and district policy. Furthermore, policies are adjusted all the time due to changes in the law, advancing technologies or specific events that highlight an area that may need updates. Therefore, it is important to stay on top of the current policy. More specifically, are you familiar with the Family Education and Privacy Act (FERPA)? You can bet it is part of Board policy. FERPA provides parents and students certain protections regarding their school information and records such as grades, discipline, contact information and transcripts. An innocent conversation in which you reveal a disciplinary issue or a grade to a friend or neighbor may be a violation. What is the policy for students bringing their own device to school? What limitations are in place? What is the policy for cell phones? What defines "Acceptable Use" of district computer equipment and the internet while on the job? How about the same questions for students under your direction? Can you recognize harassment or bullying? What are your responsibilities when you do? Are you aware of signs of child abuse and understand what the law (and policy) requires of you? These are but a few areas of which you need to be knowledgeable.

15. Safety issues: The last thing you want is not knowing the correct fire drill procedure for your students should that bell ring the first week of school! Review these important procedures before school so that you can share them with students and ideally practice them the first day of school. Do not forget various procedures such as tornado drills, bomb threats, lockdowns and A.L.I.C.E measures. Do you and your students know what to do in each of these situations especially when they are unexpected?

I believe these are the best 15 things teachers can do over the summer to set themselves and their students up for a great school year. Not all 15 will fit your needs, but I encourage you to select what makes sense for your situation and implement it!