The school year is almost over. With state testing approaching, we are more focused than ever. And while the next school year seems blissfully far away, now is the time to begin thinking about who and what you want to be. So in that spirit, I wanted to share some wisdom I have been gifted over the years. Without further ado, I present to you my five-step list of ways to prepare for the next school year.
Step 1: Process Your Emotions
Many of us will feel joy with the year ending. And while we don’t want to admit it, not having to see certain students ever again does make us feel a little giddy. Others of us will feel excited about the future. The teaching profession allows us to reinvent ourselves from year to year, and that can be invigorating. Yet, others of us will mourn. Whether it’s because we had an amazing year of professional growth or that we had a class that moved us, often we are struck with a sense of loss after each school year. Whatever emotion you have, ask yourself why you are feeling it. Is it an emotion you want to feel again? Is it something you want to change? Whatever the answer, allow it to guide you as you begin planning for next year.
These emotions are telling you something about yourself as a person and a professional. While the emotions are fresh and raw, analyze them. If harnessed, these emotions can make us better at our jobs.
Step 2: Create a Summer Growth Goal
Once you have processed your emotions, use them as a guide to your summer learning. If we are required to make a growth goal for our students for the school year, why shouldn’t we make a growth goal for ourselves in the summer? Whether it is to read professional literature, to attend high-quality professional development, or to spend time designing amazing units, make some goals. The one thing I cannot stress enough is to be intentional. Teachers often try to “knock out” their summer professional development for the school year. While liberating, it is not what is best for the students. It limits us, so think about how to create “Teacher 2.0.” Give yourself deadlines and product ideas. Think about who or what can support you in your endeavors. Think through every detail so as to make sure that you have a proper plan to follow for the coming weeks.
Once you have a vision for “Teacher 2.0,” give yourself deadlines and product ideas. Think about who or what can support you in your endeavors. Think through every detail so as to make sure that you have a proper plan to follow for the coming weeks.
Step 3: Put Everything Away
Next, find time for you. While society at large sees teachers as having a two-month vacation where nothing happens, they don’t understand that great teachers give all of themselves every day. It is exhausting. Where you can, put everything into a literal or metaphorical box for another day. Your job will be there waiting, and the kids aren’t going anywhere. If you do not, however, recharge your body, mind, and spirit, you won’t be effective come the fall.
It is imperative to spend some time growing as a human. Spend time doing the things you love to do. We often sacrifice our personal loves and hobbies as we pursue avenues to best help our students. Make sure to also spend time reconnecting with those around you that you value. For example, I am fortunate that I come from a family of educators, as well as being married to an educator. Because of this, if I am cranky or fall off the map, they understand. However, most teachers do not have this luxury. If your loved ones and friends have stood by you from the fall to the spring, use your time off to bond with them again. I know my own child has often been the victim of my distraction, so the summer is a great time to give her 100% of me.
Whatever you do, ensure you take time away from the job. Trust me, it’s waiting for you whether you pay attention to it or not.
Step 4: Implement Your Summer Growth Plan
Now that you are feeling refreshed, find that corner you threw your plan in and drag it out. Check off anything you may have already accomplished and reevaluate. Does the plan still fit who and what you are and want to be? If so, move forward. If not, redraft. Whatever you do, avoid the trap of “easy attainment.” There is a significant difference between quality professional development and sit-and-get professional development. There is an enormous gap between the “newest and best movement in education” book and the researched, powerful book.
This trap is avoidable. Be proactive and seek out the highest quality materials and people. Expand your professional learning network. Meet new people. Go out of town if you can. Reach out to whoever can help you to grow. And, most importantly, don’t be afraid to struggle and face cognitive dissonance. When you fall into the trap of easy attainment, it is more difficult to grow because you seek professional development that fits your existing schema. While the pressures of school are off you, use this time to be as challenged as you can.
Step 5: Gear Up and Prepare
Summer is wonderful as we are the masters of our own fate. The routines we set from day to day are the ones that we value and that bring us the most happiness. As the summer vacation closes, practice two mental routines that will help you through the trying times. If you have spent time getting your knowledge base ready for work, spend some time getting your head straight, too. Read and live by two ideas: living in the four rooms and living by The Four Agreements.
Living in the four rooms, if practiced intentionally, ensures that we are holistically prepared to deal with mental and physical taxation that the school year can bring. Practice, while you can, being emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally fit. Come up with systems that will allow you to monitor yourself and then practice them. Come the school year, this routine will push you through the hard stretches and ensure that you are good to yourself and others.
The other thing you can do is to live by The Four Agreements. The book, written by Don Miguel Ruiz, expounds on the practice of maintaining some sanity in the hardest of moments. The link provided is not the book, but it is a great synopsis and commentary on the mindset. Too often are we faced with people or moments that make us question our worth or actions during the school year. And while careful reflection is healthy, it can lead to self-loathing. The Four Agreements, when practiced and intentionally lived, gives a perspective that can mean the difference between sanity and frustration.
Bonus Step: Celebrate
This year is closing, and even on your worst day, you still made a positive contribution. Testing is upon us, but take the time to acknowledge at least one celebratory moment every day. The students are anxious, and frankly so are we. Be the rock they need and deserve. Above all, honor yourself. Celebrate the positives that exist in your classroom, your school, or your world.
Keep breathing, folks. It is almost over. And while the work is never done, this final push can be the most rewarding stretch, yet. Celebrate every day.