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How Teachers and Students Can Recharge and Prepare for the New Year

In part two of the three-part series, teachers from The Windward School share their advice for regaining their energy over the summer, as well as strategies to prepare for the start of the new school year

While school leaders are still navigating the ever-changing landscape of what the start of the upcoming school year will look like, teachers are also working hard over the summer months to develop lesson plans that allow them to pivot between various learning settings, including strictly online, fully in-person, or a hybrid model of in-school and at-home learning. An important part of this preparation is finding new ways to recharge before diving into another semester.

During the transition to distance learning last spring, The Windward School’s three campuses—all of which are based in New York—found themselves located in the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. In part one of this three-part series, “Evaluating What Worked Best in the Rapid Distance Learning Transition,” teachers from Windward reflected on successful practices from the previous semester. Using recording tools and a variety of apps, educators transformed the school’s research-focused teaching models to fit within students’ at-home environments. 

Here, in part two, teachers describe what they’ve been working on during the summer months leading up to the beginning of the school year. In this Q&A, teachers share lesson preparation and student learning suggestions, while also offering fellow educators relevant recharging examples to help reset the mind and body before the inevitable chaos of the new, and still uncertain, school year.

 

How can teachers use the summer break to prepare for the new school year?

Dina DiGiacomo, Language Arts Teacher:

Teachers will need to think outside of the box to meet student needs this September. With so much undetermined for the fall, teachers can take this time to think and develop their main goals for the upcoming school year while adapting their lessons to meet student needs. Having a growth mindset is very important. Once we understand that this is a learning process for our students and teachers, we can begin to accept that we will evolve along with it.

Teachers have been asked to make unprecedented changes to their teaching methods practically overnight, and they have succeeded. Reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work is a good jumping-off point in planning for a new school year. Now is the time to research a particular challenging learning platform, or find additional resources to help engage students while reaching out to colleagues to brainstorm what worked (and didn’t work) in their online classrooms. I find making templates based on online lessons that were effective helps me in planning better future lessons. Using a similar lesson structure each day allowed my students to feel a sense of control in an otherwise chaotic situation.

Jessica Sorna, Fourth Grade Teacher:

Reflect! Think back to what strategies worked during remote learning, and how you will improve them in the new school year. Ask yourself, which lessons were the most difficult to execute on an online platform, and how can you modify them for the future?

I follow several education pages on Twitter, such as Education Week and Edutopia, which keep me updated on the latest news in education. These pages offer posts based on teachers’ experiences and advice. Sometimes I come across an article and think to myself, “Wow! The next time I teach that unit, I will try incorporating that strategy!”

Karen Ralph, Life Science and Biology Teacher:

My summer plans include taking a careful look at the curricula for my life science and biology classes. Since there is a possibility that the return to school may mean teaching my classes online again or at least partially online, I’m planning ahead of time so that I can decide on the sequence and scope of topics for my science classes. Planning ahead of time will also allow me to make decisions about the materials I will need for the first semester of the academic year.

Reading science articles is an activity that I greatly enjoy doing in my leisure time, so I’ve already begun reading magazines and newsletters that touch on various health and science issues. I’m always learning something new from the articles that I’ve read, and these articles have increased my content knowledge and provided ideas on how to present lessons to my students in new ways. Additionally, I’m taking an online science workshop this July, which focuses on teaching students how to collect data and engage in a citizen science project that affects life in the school community.

 

What is your advice for educators to practice self-care and focus on personal wellness over the summer months?

Jessica Sorna:

Most importantly, rest! I know this is easier said than done, and we all rest in different ways. I choose to read a book every summer, that is “just for fun.” Turn your reading time into something special. Make a cup of tea or sit in your favorite spot. Even if you only have 10 minutes to read while your baby naps, or 30 minutes before driving to an appointment, you are carving out time for you!

Every summer, I set a goal of finishing one project I’ve been meaning to get to but have not had time to complete. It could be as big as starting and sticking to a new exercise regimen, or as small as changing the lightbulb in that closet you never open. Schedule when you will complete this project and stick to it! Crossing this item off your list will make you feel productive and accomplished, no matter how minor the task. I urge educators this summer to think about their work-from-home space, and what can be done to make it a better working environment moving forward. This way, if distance learning continues, you will already have a plan for improving your workspace. If sitting for prolonged periods of time was bothersome, think about upgrading your work chair or investing in a standing desk. Putting your laptop on a tall countertop or piece of furniture will also give you the chance to stand up while teaching.

Karen Ralph:

My first piece of advice for educators over the summer months is to focus on some form of exercise at least three times a week. Teaching online often involves extended periods of being sedentary, which is not a healthy lifestyle. Exercising is good for the body and mind. I would also suggest to my fellow educators that they get in touch with family and friends over the summer months and talk, laugh, or even cry with them. My last piece of advice is to take naps and get plenty of sleep each day. In other words, rest your body and mind.

Dina DiGiacomo:

As teachers, we are very used to putting our students and school first. During this time of uncertainty, many teachers have worked day and night to ensure the academic, social, and emotional needs of students are being met. Throughout the summer, teachers need to practice self-care and recharge for what will most likely be another school year filled with change. Since typical summer travels may not be possible this year, teachers can spend time focusing on something that enriches their social and emotional needs at home. Going for a hike, reading that book that there never seemed to be enough time for during the year, or cooking a meal with family are great ways to recharge. Taking care of ourselves makes us better able to meet the needs of others―especially our students.

 

What is your perspective on student learning over the summer, particularly in light of the ways the pandemic has disrupted the typical school routines? 

Karen Ralph:

Parents occasionally ask me for suggested activities that their children can engage in during the summer. I have a list of science fiction books and a few science fiction movies I recommend to parents from themes covered in my life science or biology curricula. My favorite summer activities for children are the Buehler Challenger & Science Center programs and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Both institutions offer inquiry-based learning experiences to engage students in real-world science. Buehler Challenger & Science Center focuses on science and engineering practices associated with space shuttle missions while the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies focuses on ecology and the environment.

Dina DiGiacomo:

Read, read, read! I encourage my students to read as much as possible over the summer. We believe that the brain is a muscle, and you need to work it to grow it. While the summer is a time for rest and relaxation, students should read for pleasure as often as possible. It is especially important now. Daily reading helps to keep skills fresh and minds engaged while maintaining a daily routine. I have asked my class to attach their daily reading to a task they routinely complete. For example, I’ve suggested they wake up, brush their teeth, and read. This way, their daily reading becomes ingrained in the routine of the day, and students see significant benefits.

Jessica Sorna:

Windward students are always assigned summer homework to prevent the dreaded “summer slide.” My students are tasked with reinforcing their decoding skills by reading assigned word lists aloud to an adult. Also, they are asked to read a minimum of three chapter books of their choosing. To identify a “just right level” book, I teach the students (and parents) the “Five Finger Rule.” If a student can open to the middle of a book and read one page aloud, making fewer than five errors, the book is at an appropriate decoding level. I ask parents and caregivers to monitor students’ comprehension over the summer by encouraging the children to provide summaries after reading each chapter. It can be as simple as asking, “What happened in this chapter?” A child’s response will tell the parents whether the student should re-read the chapter or choose a new book with a simpler text structure.

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