George Lucas Educational Foundation
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July is traditionally considered leisure time for educators and the educated -- teachers and students alike. Beaches and books, pools and picnics.

And for good reason. The workload of any teacher or administrator can be difficult for those outside of education to fully appreciate.

That said, there's a thin line between two months of respite and losing ground in your craft. Slumbering for the summer and then expecting to flip the light switch that turns everything on for the first professional development meeting at your school or district can do more harm than good. And since June itself is often full of close-outs, meetings, and general exhale, that leaves . . . well, July.

Though it can be tempting to put the next school year off until last possible day, it doesn't have to be that way. You can still relax, make your own schedule, and "play" enough to free some creativity from the vise grip of a taxing schedule.

While you likely have your own checklist for opening the school year, below are five ideas to help you stay on top of your game without completely spoiling the oasis of summer.

1) Review and Refine Instructional Design

While classroom management, grading tips and collegial relationships get a lot of ink, instructional design is a teacher's real best friend. The opportunities you provide for learners to understand and master new content are the very heart of what we do as educators, and nowhere else is it as accessible as July.

The school year itself is full of grading, reporting, refining and communication. Matters of design are best tackled when you have both time and a bit of spark. No matter what you use during the year -- thematic units; project-based learning; direct, genre-based instruction; online learning; a flipped classroom -- now is the time to look at what you've done and tweak it. Differentiate it, personalize it, make it more authentic, offer more learner voice-and-choice, increase the potential rigor, alter how you activate prior knowledge -- whatever it takes to evolve your craft.

2) Verify Curriculum

Academic standards change -- and recently, they've changed often. Whether you're operating from the Common Core or working to fold in NCTE, P21, or other local learning standards, knowing your curriculum is (obviously) critical. And this goes past keeping up with whatever changes have been handed down from above -- it's about looking at the content you deliver with fresh eyes, which can be difficult.

Find a different way to read the standards this time. For example, highlight them with three different colors: one for standards or specific language you might have missed in the past; one for potential power standards; and one for standards that may offer collaboration opportunities with other content area teachers.

3) Check-in with Your Digital PLN

Whether you're officially checking in with your personal learning network, or simply pinging the PLN you use every day via Twitter or your favorite blog or Ning, ongoing involvement with other educators can help with suggestions #1 and #2. For example, get a teacher from another grade level, state or content area to have a look at one of your units or assessments.

And when you do, be open to their thinking.

4) Building and District-level Collaboration

Team meetings can help ease the anxiety of starting a new school year, no matter how relaxing it is to have your toes in the sand. Classroom management, rewards, scheduling and other areas that can really obscure the curriculum and instruction -- e.g., the learning -- can be taken on at the local Starbucks, or even via Edmodo or Google+, so that when you do show up at your local brick-and-mortar, there's less on your plate.

5) Visit with Incoming Students

Home visits are incredible ways to better understand not just the "city" your learners come from, but the specific neighborhood and house. And it can be eye-opening.

Home visits by educators usually begin with a district or school-level initiative. Postcards sent out a week or so ahead of time let families know when to expect you, and you'll usually go with at least one other teacher, if not two or three. This is probably not the kind of thing to jump in your car and try on a whim. (That's more than a little weird.)

But if it's on the summer agenda for your school and you've never done it before, this is something to look forward to. Visits like these can establish relationships that will go miles in the classroom.

This Won't Be on the Test

However you spend your summer, don't forget to relax. The numbered items above aren't supposed to be another stressful checklist. They're just big ideas to help you make sure that, come opening bell, your classroom whirs on like the rigorous, personalized, digital and authentic machine it is.

If you can start with the big ideas first -- instructional design, curriculum, collaboration, and the learners themselves (especially if you can reach out to them in an out-of-school context) -- it's much easier to swallow when four out of your first five planning periods are brutalized by meetings, phone calls, and enough paperwork to keep Dunder Mifflin in the black.

Give it a shot for 90 minutes a day. The sun and sand will be there when you're finished.

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August Merz III's picture
August Merz III
8th grade algebra and engineering teacher form Tucson

You're timing couldn't be better. In a a couple of hours we're heading up to Sedona for a few days away. I just packed,along with a couple of novels, the book I'm reading to help me prepare for flipping my class. I've got a blank pad to sketch out a crosswalk between my school's curriculum, common core, and our IB assessment criteria. I've started texting some colleagues. My professional networks are gearing up. I need to get the contact info for may algebra students to send a welcoming post card. Does that make my score 5 for 5?
Seriously, your post is super and offers a refreshing look at how to prepare and renew simultaneously.

TODD SENTELL's picture
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

During the exam period, which started Tuesday and lasts until next Tuesday, you don't have to come to school on the day your free period has an exam.

The school wants you to call it your planning period, but you're actually free to leave the campus on a regular day and do whatever you want during your planning period so I call it a free period. Say free period around Lurlene and she goes nuts. She'll say you're supposed to be in there planning for what's coming. I always say I've already done that because I have. This usually leaves the woman speechless, and that's always a big moment in the history of American education.

So guess what today is? My free period. I don't have a third period. I didn't get out of my nasty bathrobe until ___ o'clock in the dang ___.

Free to do what, though, I have no idea. You go four hundred miles an hour for almost ten months so it's hard to slow it down and think about your own strange and embarrassing desires for too long. But do something healthy, maybe, like a long jog, followed up by weight lifting and some time with the heavy bag? Or something nutritious, like a long afternoon nap?

I performed one of the four aforementioned items and then I watched a DVD that new substitute teacher, Charla, who looks like Tammy Wynette, had given me a few days ago with a sticky note stuck to it that said, in her curly-girly letters, that there were people in this movie like people in our families. Charla is very, very much from Tennessee. She must get a hillbilly vibe from me.

Anyway, the movie is called Sordid Lives, and it's about a bunch of loveable and eccentric people with necks that are sun burned. The movie's tag line is ... A Black Comedy About White Trash.

In one scene an old woman named Sissy is hovering over the dead corpse of her sister while the corpse is lying in a coffin. Her sister's got a dead mink or a ferret wrapped around her neck and the corpse is smiling. Sissy had already walked into the empty church smoking a cigarette and she says to her freshly dead sister as she's waving smoke out of the way with her hand ... Heyyyy! I guess you don't mind if I smoke. It just wasn't the right time to quit with you dyin' and all. I only lasted for three days. I failed again, but after five husbands what else is new?

There I am, late in the afternoon during my all-day free period, in my nasty bathrobe, laughing at the TV screen all by myself. I felt like a lunatic and it felt dang wonderful.

Meika Campbell's picture
Meika Campbell
Pre-K Teacher from Decatur, Georgia

I really enjoyed reading your blog. It provided insight and it makes a lot of good sense. As the school year begins, I am often overwhelmed by all the work that is awaiting me before the students come back to school. I dread doing anything in July because it is my last moment of peace and relaxation, but it makes complete sense to start planning ahead of time. Why add extra stress on time your already piled up plate of things to do. I think following the steps you outlined will alleviate extra work and still allow me to have extra time to relax. I especially like your ideas about connecting with PLCs and building collaboration. I look forward to trying out this method and gaining more free time before school starts back.

schererjoy's picture
High School 9-12 Special education teacher, ELA, from Texas

Great Ideas! I whole-heartily agree with planning for the next school year. My district requires 14 hours of in-service in each curriculum area; even in special education we have specific classes to take. But what makes my job easier, is going to Regular Education courses, such as ELA curriculum updates for high school. This year we were given a curriculum unit planning document and a requirement for that course and I helped plan the first nine weeks for the English 2 group. At home, I was able to complete my yearlong curriculum in a very short time for my resource English 1 and 2. I am prepared with a yearlong calendar, unit preparations, and specific lessons for novels. July was my relaxing month, and I work only work when I feel like it to finish the last novel unit for English 1, which is in my last nine weeks of school. Even if I get back and my high school ELA department changes something I can roll with the flow so much better, and because I am prepared I can add to those meetings, most of the time, and I am valued as an ELA teacher not just a special education teacher. My year goes so much better being prepared and I do spend less time on academic planning, so that I can concentrate on my special education duties for my case manger list.

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