Summer Learning that Restores Balance and Provides Prep for the School Year
Teachers reflect on effective summer strategies for both learning and relaxation
During this past spring, educators across the country adapted to a growing set of new challenges that look to continue into the 2020-21 academic year. In part one and two, seven elementary school teachers, each of whom is part of the 2020 class of Extraordinary Educators named by Curriculum Associates, reflected on their most memorable and successful moments from a demanding spring semester. See more reflection and insights on summer strategies applied by these same outstanding teachers in the third part of this article series:
How can teachers use the summer break to prepare for the new school year?
4th grade teacher
George Welch Elementary School, West Monroe, La.
This summer, I have been trying to think outside the box when imagining how my classroom will look and the procedures to put in place for the upcoming school year. I ask myself, instead of community supplies, how will I organize individual supplies? What will it look like for my students to go to the bathroom while staying a safe distance apart? How will I incorporate movement in my lesson while maintaining social distancing guidelines? What procedures are the most important to teach the first day? When will I sanitize books after children read them?
I’ve also been thinking about my online instruction and what it will look like if I have to teach virtually full time. I have participated in virtual professional development over the summer to improve my online instruction. When I taught virtually in the spring, I already had well-established relationships with my students, instructing them on how to access different online programs. Researching different online materials and recording how-to videos for my students makes me feel better prepared if I have to quickly change my instruction to an all-virtual setting.
5th grade teacher
Elsie Johnson Elementary School, Hanover Park, Ill.
Now that we’ve spent some time relaxing after our crazy end of the year, summer break is a great time to start preparing for the new year. One of the first things I do is close out my last year’s classes on Google Classroom. I make sure everything has been “turned back” to my students, to provide ownership to them, and then I archive it.
I begin setting up my classrooms for next year without inviting students until letters have been sent home. I prepare myself for the new school year by going through my email and my drive. We use Google Drive and Gmail in our district, and I’ve been deleting and archiving emails. I go through files on my Drive and decide the ones to keep, archive, or delete. I have not always done that, but by doing it the past few years, I’ve been able to make a much smoother transition into the new school year. I also set up my folders for the new year. I have a grade level folder, and inside that folder, I have the current school year. Only files to be used this year will go in there. For files in other folders that are used year after year; I make sure to make a shortcut in my school year folder.
Every year our district puts on a Summer Technology Professional Development, and I try to teach one or two classes. However, this year, because of teaching remotely, I needed some downtime for myself and decided just to be the student. Our district offers a variety of technology classes, book studies, restorative justice class, and independent studies. I signed up for classes in areas I felt I needed to do a deeper dive. Technology comes pretty easy for me, but taking some of the classes afforded me the time to practice and reflect on how I would use some of the programs with my students and in what capacity.
Summer is the perfect time to try some programs out. There are many YouTube videos, people to follow on Instagram, or even now TikTok now to share little insights. Also, this is a great time to reflect on your own teaching practice and ask yourself what you need to learn to become a better teacher for your students. It’s an excellent time to follow some people on Instagram, sign up for some professional development being offered, watch videos or even call a colleague, and ask if you could Zoom or Google Meet with them to share some ideas. Book studies are another great opportunity to share new ideas and philosophies.
I feel all teachers should be keeping up with the latest scientific and medical guidelines that have come up from the CDC and valid medical journals. We should be informed individuals, and just like we teach our students, make sure what we are reading is from a credible source. It’s also essential to keep up with state recommendations. Our Illinois State Board of Education has sent out guidelines for schools, and currently, I’m reading it to become more informed as an educator.
Summer is our time to sit back and relax. With so many of us experiencing stay-at-home orders to be safe and protect our families, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the results of remote learning as an educator. It’s an excellent time to decide what to keep, change, learn and try with your students next year to bring success inside and outside the classroom.
5th grade teacher
Pelham Oaks Elementary School, Pelham, Ala.
There are several ways teachers can prepare for the upcoming school year. I believe that maintaining communication with the school district and administration is very important because expectations and plans are ever-changing. Additionally, it’s necessary to stay aligned with the most current medical research regarding health and safety concerning the virus. Professional development is vital this summer because the majority of it revolves around virtual learning.
What is your advice for educators to practice self-care and focus on personal wellness over the summer months?
3rd grade teacher
Drew Elementary School, West Monroe, La.
As educators, we are used to adjusting to ever-changing circumstances, but this last year was one for the history books. Give yourself some time to process and decompress. The upcoming school year will be just as challenging as the end of this past year. We are venturing into uncharted territory. Focus on you. Pick up a new hobby, sleep until noon, stay in your PJs all day, spend time with family, dye your hair a wild color (mine is currently orange). It is okay to focus on you. We pour so much of ourselves into our students. Take the time to pour back into yourself. When we feel happy and confident, our students feed off that energy, and they, in turn, feel happy and confident.
5th grade teacher
Elsie Johnson Elementary School, Hanover Park, Ill.
The advice I would give fellow educators in practicing self-care is to find something you enjoy and that relaxes you. One of the things I enjoy is being outside in my garden. Working in the dirt is therapeutic. We all need to find time away from our teaching lives to focus on ourselves, so we are prepared to welcome another group of wonderful students.
One of the first things I say is to develop a gratitude list. Write one thing you are grateful for and continue this every day in a journal or on post-it notes. Another activity educators should do that we often do not find the time for during the school year is energize the body. This could be stretching, swimming, running, yoga, or any other physical activity that you enjoy. Exercise is a key part of self-care. It improves cognitive functioning and releases endorphins in the brain, which helps reduce stress and manage depression and decrease the stress hormones in the body.
Simplify a schedule during the summer. We are so busy during the school year, and this is a time to slow down and enjoy each moment the best we can. Going through this pandemic has been hard, and being home quarantined and away from friends and family can take a toll. It may be a time to call and have a virtual session with a counselor. Talking with someone about your concerns, worries, and feelings is always helpful, and no one should ever feel ashamed to do it. We all can use a reboot even when we are not in a pandemic.
Finally, I would say do something you have always wanted to do. It could be a new hobby, a craft, read a new author, paint, begin an exercise routine, or learn to play an instrument—lastly, just breathe. There is so much going on in our nation today with the pandemic, the protests, the riots, decisions being made in education, and our society in general. We are going back to an unknown. All of it can be very overwhelming. Sometimes you just need to stop and shut out all the noise from the outside world and focus on yourself and your family. Unplug, breathe, and relax, even if it is just for five minutes.
Staying mentally healthy has been a priority since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Exercising, taking a relaxing bath, talking to other adults, and having an occasional nap are some of the ways I have tried to maintain positive mental health. I have three young children, so I try to schedule a time of rest every day or two for them. This time allows all of us to have a break from one another and to reset. My children and I have spent a lot of time together since March, so we all find benefit in taking some alone time.
It is such an overwhelming time to be an educator because there is so much uncertainty in our field. In addition to the uncertainty, we are bombarded with new virus information and social and political divides. I believe that taking breaks from social media and television and getting outside are great ways to unplug and bring some peacefulness to ourselves. I think learning to balance time with our families without technology is a great way to practice self-care.
What is your perspective on student learning over the summer, particularly in light of the ways the pandemic has disrupted the typical school routines? In other words, are there things you are encouraging students to work on over the summer?
Like most teachers, I always encourage learning over the summer. This year, in particular, I have encouraged parents and students to put forth some extra effort. Read, practice math facts, count coins, etc. Giving parents the tools to make everyday activities learning experiences for their kids can make them partners in their child’s education.
Our district has not pressed for any additional summer learning. However, I did encourage my students to log into their i-Ready accounts and continue on their pathways to help prepare them for the next school year.
I have recommended to parents to have their child read every day. Our students have access to a few different resources online for books and magazines, and currently, our public libraries are now allowing Grab and Go services and curbside pickups. Some of my students have been sharing their book recommendations in our class Flipgrid. They have enjoyed sharing books. I also have recommended my students to continue with their i-Ready online lessons. We took our math diagnostic right before the close of school, so new paths had been developed. I post interesting activities and articles for my students. Some of my students have taken me up on my recommendations, but like every summer, many do not. We always prepare for that result in the fall, and this next school year, we expect the same. We know going into this next year, not all standards were completed, and we will have to fill that in. We will find creative ways to do that.
In the summer, I encourage children to work on the basics. Reviewing math facts or sight words and reading a book or two weekly is plenty for a child’s brain to stay activated. Students have been out of school for a more extended period than a normal summer, but I would not recommend parents try to fill in all the gaps at home. When students return to school, teachers will be prepared to reteach to bring students up to grade level. The summer break is a time to create, explore, and make memories that are important for children.