George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Woman with laptop sitting on a patio

During summer days, if you're a top teacher, you'll take time to improve your best asset -- you. If somehow it's not clear why that's so important, look at it this way: when financial times are tight, our schools can improve the bottom line in four ways, three which aren’t beneficial for us as teachers.

  1. They can cut teachers and staff.
  2. They can cut benefits.
  3. They can lower quality.
  4. We teachers can become more productive and better at our jobs.

The best choice for our students, schools, and us is #4 -- becoming better teachers. But how? We're so tired!

Here are 12 tips that I use to level up every summer.

1. Rework the Worst to Be the Best

Based on student feedback, rework your least engaging lessons to make them the most exciting lessons the next year. Create costumes or comb thrift shops, make room decorations, and spend time inventing powerful learning experiences. Top teachers never settle.

2. Prepare Platforms

Reevaluate online platforms and learn what you could be doing. Revisit your favorite sites to see what new features they've added. You can't paint your room every year, but you can apply a new theme to your Ning and give the class wiki a facelift!

3. Record and Prepare Your Digital Persona

Many teachers use videos to enhance instruction. Using Sophia and Office Mix for PowerPoint, I am recording the screencasts for the first few weeks of school. Sometimes I even grab my iPhone and record a message for my students in an odd place like on top of a zip line platform or after rafting a river. These personal connections help enhance our relationship.

4. Learn and Share

Read, watch videos, and share what you've learned. A powerful network of educators is emerging on Goodreads. You can read friends' book recommendations and create a personal book challenge. (If you read on Kindle and link your Amazon account to Goodreads, it tracks your progress automatically.) You can write book reviews, tweet, or blog what you've learned. The discipline of writing book reviews will help you remember. Plus, educators who care share.

5. Connect with Colleagues

Educators can be so inspiring. Take time to read blogs and learn best practices. The summer is a perfect time to join Twitter chats or listen to educational Internet radio.

6. Revitalize Your Physical Health

Your health impacts your mood and your ability to perform at peak levels. (See my post 12 Choices to Step Back from Burnout for more on this.) In the summer, I run or walk first thing in the morning, drink lots of green tea, and catch up on rest. What is your plan?

7. Disconnect Completely

Be a human being, not a human doing. Experience life -- don't just take pictures of others doing it. Be unafraid to go where cellular signals do not break the underbrush. When you disconnect, you'll return with renewed energy that comes from reestablishing relationships. You'll think more clearly after having your thought patterns uninterrupted by tweets, beats, and the bleats of an always-on society.

8. Embrace Change

Some people are afraid of change. Others don't want to change because it makes them feel dumb. Here’s the thing -- the longer you wait to change, the dumber you will feel. Intentionally push yourself out of your comfort zone. Go new places. Do new things. Buy a new outfit. Wear your hair in a new way. Try a new tool.

9. Tinker

Do you remember those summer days long ago? Your parents asked you what you did, and you answered, "I just messed around." Well, you can still take time to mess around. I'm tinkering with ClassDojo and learning everything I can about the Maker movement and 3D printers. I'm tinkering with apps and a new Chromebook. Summer is the time to tinker.

10. Laugh (a Lot)

Laughter is good for you. In the car, look up jokes and read them to your fellow travelers. Eventually you'll find one that has you howling with happy tears in mobile reverie.

11. Set Goals and Remember Who You Are

Set goals or revise those you've already written. Where do you want to be next summer, next year, or in five years? Take time to update your goals and review them daily.

12. Be Prepared to Hit a Home Run on the First Day: Be "The Babe"

If you're watching baseball this summer, there's nothing more exhilarating than when a hitter slams a home run on the first at bat. Then, if he does it another time, everyone is even more wowed and amazed. Here are just a few resources to get you thinking this summer about making that strong start in the first few days of school:

As for me, I will be prepared to be the Babe -- a Babe Ruth of teachers, that is. I'm going to slug a jaw-dropping, mind-bending home run. I'm going to work to impress my parents with the first supply list sent home. You get one chance to create a first impression. The rest of your year will benefit if you can come out of the dugout with your Louisville slugger in hand, ready to slam it home.

Happy Summer!

So have an awesome, funny, happy, sensational, disconnected, connected blast of a summer, my friends. Come back better than ever, because you will make the difference in your school this next year. Be epic. Be awesome. Be the kind of teacher our world needs today.

Level up your learning, and your students will, too!

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Carrie Pillsbury's picture
Carrie Pillsbury
Communications Director at Fund for Teachers

Just shared with our teachers/Fellows. Teachers use FFT grants for professional renewal, downtime and reflection. Would love for you to design one for our '15 grant cycle. So proud of what our 525 preK-12 Fellows are doing this summer!

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


During your summer break, do you desire to totally freak out narcissistic nouveaux riche people?

Then mix up your jogging routes and also jog along the parkways, boulevards, and streets in the exquisite neighborhoods of these folks ... and when they roar by you at twenty to thirty miles per hour over the speed limit in their exquisite German-made sedans, roadsters, and SUVs, make that certain motion with your arms and hands as you yell at them to SLOW DOWN!

The certain arm and hand motion looks as if you're pushing stuff ... with both hands ... into a suitcase you're packing for a vacation to Myrtle Beach. The nice citizens who are speeding, who have never been told "no" by anyone in their lives, will slam on their brakes and swerve all over the street as they come to a stunning realization that someone without a shirt, greasy hair, too-tight adidas running shorts, and a skanky beard jogging in their nice neighborhood, who they don't know, just yelled at them to slow down.


Todd's teaching memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave," at corkscrew turns hilarious and heartbreaking, will be published this fall by Stairway Press.

Teacher's picture

I enjoyed reading this post as it describes that a good teacher must reflect on his or her previous year, be flexible in changing and looking forward to the future, as well as take time to relax and enjoy every day. As a newer teacher, I strongly agree with Tip#1. I am aware that we all want to make the best of our summer, but we also want to make the best of our school year. No student enjoys a stagnant classroom and improving our lessons and lab activities to promote engagement and success is always beneficial.
To acquire student feedback, I currently do two things before the school year is over. 1.) I ask the students to create a two-fold illustrated paper that details the "Coolest" and "Most Boring" topics of the year. They also must provide justification with two opinion sentences. For educational purposes, a definition and labeled diagrams are also required. 2.) The students are given the opportunity to write a letter to next year's students in my class. As I filter through them for appropriate language, it is easy to gain an understanding on what the students most enjoyed and least enjoyed in the class and how I can improve it.
However, being one that is an over-achiever, perfectionist, or the likewise, it is also imperative that I practice Tip#10. Every person, in any culture, can benefit from from a good laugh.

Michelle @ eSchoolView's picture
Michelle @ eSchoolView
School PR/Communications

Love item No. 3! Don't forget to update your teacher webpages, if you have one. Be sure your class assignment is correct as well as your preferred method of contact. Be sure you use all sections you have created on your page, such as the calendars, homework assignments and links to helpful resources. Delete anything that says "Coming Soon." No one likes to be teased ... and it makes you look unprepared. Instead, post the content once you have it. Offer homework tips when possible and consider providing a bio about you! If you share videos with students in class, upload them to your site that day. Consider using your webpage for your daily or weekly wrap-up instead of a lengthy email. Instead, send a short note home with a link to your site so the parents of your students can see just how robust and useful your page is! Make it THE place to be. Good luck!! This might job a few ideas:

Pam's picture

I really like your practical suggestions, Vicki! My husband doesn't get that teachers work 190 days a year and have summers off and then we complain about our pay. I figured it out, if I worked ONLY 190 days a year, I make more than he does! But like I told him, we are never completely idle. Oh sure, if we go on vacation somewhere, we MIGHT be "off", but for the most part, teachers work year round because we are always striving to perfect our craft. I plan to spend this summer READING (something I love and miss doing in the school year due to time constraints) and preparing for next year. As this was my first year working full-time in contract, and now that I am not looking for a job (finally) for next year, I have at least an idea of what I have to do to get prepared for next school year. This is the first time that I will not be thrust into a new job of which I have no idea where to begin to prepare! I cannot imagine how much more at peace I am going to be this year over previous years. For once, I am not going to be flying by the seat of my pants! But first....a couple of classes/workshops and then BREATHE and relax! Who know? I may even get some pool time in before summer flies by! :)

Pam's picture


I am 55, and I can so relate to your article. I can't tell you how many times I say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it, " or "let's get back to the basics". Your article confirmed to me what I already believed, that writing is very important to our students. I hear kids ALL THE TIME complain (middle schoolers) about having to write, since we have computers/laptops in our classrooms now. They don't think that writing is an important skill, and until now, I really did not know how to explain to them just how important it really is for their learning. Your article also explained to me why these same students struggle with reading. I know, from experience and academic studies, that students learn better the more senses they use, so this makes perfect sense that learning to write letters and words would improve learning of the language as a whole.

As far as our leaders of academia not wanting to "hear" what you have to report, that really doesn't surprise me at all. There are so many of our upper echelon, those who know better because they've got the "right credentials" who have no common sense at all. I can't tell you how many times my own mother (also a teacher) would attend professional developments and come home and say, "what we learned today was what we've always used for teaching, just under another name." Maybe if the powers that be would leave us alone and let us teach, our kids might actually come out know, like our generations before us. :) Of course, we would have to return to holding kids accountable for their actions too, instead of letting them off the hook every time that they misbehave because they might have had a bad day. Yes, I am speaking tongue-in-cheek, with a bit of seriousness too.

Anyway, please continue to do what you do. Shout it from the rooftops, if you so desire, until people pay attention!

DrTinz's picture
Teaching with Vitality - Helping educators increase energy, enthusiasm, and focus.

These are some great tips. When I present my Teaching with Vitality workshops and in-services, I make many of the same suggestions...learning, disconnecting, laughing, embracing change. Use these summer months to increase your physical, emotional, intellectual, and charismatic vitality.

Julie Spang's picture
Julie Spang
Technology Integration Specialist at GDRMS

Great article Vicki! I plan to share your ideas on my summer edition of my summer edition of my tech newsletter. I am intrigued by your school supply list homerun...what are your ideas on this?

fmofti's picture

Excellent ideas , practical approach
It's worth sharing with other friends to boast innovation in developing new way to intice students talent and excitement .

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