George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Summer Reading as Professional Development

July 14, 2014

Like their students, St. Andrew’s teachers look forward to their long summer break. It is an opportunity to recharge and to take time to read some good books, take some long walks, and make some new friends (advice my rabbi use to give me each summer). But St. Andrew’s teachers, like so many teachers across the United States, also recognize that the summer is an opportune time to grow one’s professional practice, to reflect on the previous year, and to prepare for the new one.

What distinguishes St. Andrew’s teachers is their collective growth mindset. They are rarely satisfied with doing it the way they did five years ago or even one year ago. They embrace the 10% challenge put forth to them each year: “What ten-percent of your instructional practice or work with each student will you change this year?” As a result, preschool through twelfth grade teachers are continually exploring ways to become better teachers, coaches, and advisors. For St. Andrew’s teachers, and so many teachers across the United States, professional development is a professional responsibility and the summer is THE prime time for such growth.

I am continually amazed and the quality of workshops, both on-site and virtual, that are available to teachers and school leaders over the summer. Graduate work and recertification are also a part of so many teachers summer time. But workshop fees, and travel costs, make it prohibitive for a growing number of teachers to avail themselves of such professional development opportunities.

Fortunately, professional development is not limited to attending workshops or one’s geographic location. Ask any St. Andrew’s teacher, “What is on their summer reading list?” and they will provide you a list that I often think requires a year-long sabbatical to complete as opposed to the summer months.  But the book, be it in paper, hardback or a digital format, remains an inexpensive way for individual teaches, or better yet, groups of teachers, to disrupt their thinking about teaching, learning, leading and a career in education.

So what are you reading, or what is your school community reading? Fortunately, if you are stuck or paralyzed by the number of choices available, there has emerged a growing “industry” of well-read teachers who share their reviews with the larger educational community. So I encourage you to explore what Jonathan Martin and Jill Gough suggest, or have their colleagues reading, as well as what options St. Andrew’s teachers are considering. 

The one point, or area of research, that I would like you to consider when it comes to summer reading centers on choice. Educators know that choice enhances student engagement. Choice allows students to pursue their passions. The same should apply to summer reading for adults. We are all at different places in our professional journeys. While I certainly recognize the value of one common book, I also know that their will be greater by-in from your teachers when they can choose the direction of their summer reading (I would also say the same for those students who are facing their own summer reading requirements). So embrace choice and, as Jill Gough said, “Share to learn.”

Summer reading can also be just a start. Many schools use their summer reading to launch year-long study groups or Professional Learning Communities (PLC) around a pedagogical practice or school issue.  Many schools also use summer reading for community building. So consider every employee, faculty and staff, in your summer reading selections and invite them, as well as parents, to read, reflect, and review when the new school year begins.

So what does summer reading for teachers mean for students?  It means students will return for the new school year with teachers who have spent part of their summer making themselves better at what they do.  It means that students will see their teachers as role models for having a growth mindset. And it means that students will have teachers informed by fresh thinking of what exceptional teaching, learning, and leading might look like.

As your students head in different directions this summer, with Alice’s Cooper’s 1972 song, “Schools Out” playing in the background, hats off to teachers who not only recognize the summer as an opportunity to refresh and reenergize but to also deepen their professional toolkits through the power of a book. All students deserve such teachers. 

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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