Summer is becoming a lost art. Perhaps that’s why so many in our profession are losing heart. We run into summer at full velocity, and many teachers never slow down but tumble into more events for their children or themselves. Many of us volunteer too much, plan too much, and do too much—if we’re not careful, we start the fall without getting the most important things done.
Here are eight things that I believe will help you—and me—spend our summer well and be better in the fall.
1. Take Time Each Day to Go Outside
When I was a little girl in south Georgia, the first thing I’d do when summer started was take off my shoes, put on my shorts and my favorite halter top, and head out through the field behind our house. Sometimes there was wheat in that field, sometimes it was corn, and sometimes it was rye or peanuts. Eventually we planted pecan trees back there. It didn’t really matter what was there, I would just walk outside. That day I got out of school, I just needed to be. I’d walk outside and see what I saw.
Richard Louv talks about “nature deficit disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods, in which he shares astounding research on a child’s emotional health and their connection with nature.
Who robbed us of open spaces and long walks with friends? When was the last time we looked at the sky?
2. Use a Journal to Capture Your Best Thinking
Over time a computer hard drive stops storing files efficiently. As files are deleted or saved, bits and pieces are left here and there. So sometimes, it helps to defragment the disk. Likewise, when summer arrives, I’m fragmented in my thinking. All of the school year is jumbled in my mind like those partial files on my hard drive.
So I grab my journal as I start my summer thinking. I write lists of issues. Observations. Funny stories. Eventually I get around to the problems I’d like to solve. Some of our best thinking can be done in the summer.
3. Take a Digital Vacation
Once I was on a cruise and was shocked to see angry people pacing the upper decks, yelling into their cell phones about the latest problem at work. Their bodies went on vacation, but because they brought their work phones, their minds didn’t.
We sacrifice time with the person in front of us for the distant person we never see. My pastor has his family put all of their devices in a basket when they go on vacation. They pick them up on the last day.
I take real vacations. But I also have digital vacations—limiting my cell phone use to what is absolutely necessary.
4. Waste Some Time, Guilt-Free
Marthe Troly-Curtain says, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” I think that sometimes doing nothing is exactly what we teachers should do. I have to intentionally tell myself to waste some time or I won’t let myself read fiction. Relax. Have a long conversation that I let ramble all over the place. Laugh with a friend. Or just be me.
5. Go on an Adventure
I screamed all the way on the zip line over the Nantahala Gorge. I yelled in delight as we went dune bashing in Qatar with Arab hip-hop playing at full volume. I let out a good old southern “Yahoo!” riding a toboggan down from the top of the Great Wall of China and again in Jamaica when my bobsled went airborne. All of this happened after I turned 40.
There’s nothing stopping us from adventure except our unwillingness to think about going.
6. Do Something Meaningful
My pastor says, “Don’t sit in a recliner and watch The Price Is Right for the rest of your life... get out there and do something.”
Is there something you can do this summer that will mean something to you in 25 years?
7. Get Back on Track Physically
If you’re fighting burnout, work out. The link between exercise and positive mood, better learning, and longer life is astounding. Exercise is free, costing only your time and sweat. So why don’t we do it?
Try out new eating plans. Get into new fitness routines. Find new fitness buddies.
8. Prepare for School Intentionally
During the summer, I plan out the issues that I’ll tackle for the fall. Usually these come from my student surveys at the end of school. I can’t do everything, so I make a list of those things I need to do this summer—and I plan to get them done two weeks before school starts so I can take a break right before we begin school.
I’ll have a few lessons plans that I want to rework. I’ll plan global projects. I’ll also make a list of things not to do for the fall. If something doesn’t work or is outdated, I’ll drop it from my lesson plans.
Make Sure You Make the Most of It
Summer will go by so quickly, but then again, so does life. I think the most effective way to get the most out of life is to live each day like it matters, because it does.
We as teachers need our summers so we can heal. So we can rest. So we can learn. But I’ll tell you this: In our fast-paced, hyper-connected world, if we don’t take control of our summer, it will pass by unused and unenjoyed.
We all need a great summer, so, let’s get out there and make the most of it.