TCHERS' VOICE / Professional Learning

Reflecting and Recharging This Summer

Center for Teaching Quality

By now, you've probably worked through the piles of papers and exams that needed grading. You've taken a stab at cleaning your classroom, mostly putting things into random boxes. You're ready to let the tension from your neck and shoulders fall away.

Maybe you're looking forward to some travel or perhaps you will finally find the time to get to the books that have piled up on your bedside table. No matter what your start-of-summer-break tradition is, I hope you'll consider making reflection a part of it this year.

After all, summer can provide you with the opportunity to make the most of what you've accomplished this year—and make next year even better.

Review your teaching journal—if you keep one. When my students are writing in their journal at the beginning of the class, I am also writing in mine. This record of day-to-day reflection on my practice has helped me process the often chaotic times in the classroom.

At the end of the year, it is interesting to peruse through these journals and find moments of joy and frustration. It helps me think ahead to next year and consider making different decisions such as when projects are due, guest speakers are scheduled, and field trips are incorporated. Pairing my journals and next year’s school calendar helps frame my thinking before I think about making major changes in my pedagogical practice.

(A tip for next year: Jim Burke has worked with Heinemann to create The Teacher's Daybook to help teachers reflect as they progress throughout the year.)

Look back over your planner. Even if you don't keep a teaching journal, you may have kept up with the daily work of the school year in a digital or paper planner. At the very least, you probably have access to your "sent" personal and professional email messages. Taking a look over your sent messages from the past year can be revelatory in helping consider how you may want to do or schedule things differently in the future.

Revise/create unit plans.

Unless you're changing and growing in your own learning, you're basically teaching the same year over and over again to your students. Reviewing units from previous years will provide the insights you need to change up your ideas. If the shift to Common Core State Standards isn't already leading you to mix it up in your classroom, consider scrapping a unit you've done in the past and trying something different next year.

Deep diving into curriculum planning takes time and energy, so it's a great summer task. To keep yourself on track, consider joining up with colleagues to share ideas and receive feedback.

Find opportunities to continue your growth.

Adding new experiences to your personal life will only enrich your professional life. Consider how travel can expand your point of view and add a depth of understanding that you'll bring back to your students once school starts back up again. If your passport has expired and a trip is out of reach, consider reading widely this summer. According to Jhumpa Lahiri, "…that's what books are for, to travel without moving an inch."

In addition, many organizations offer summer professional development to help teachers grow in their area of interest. For example, the National Writing Project's Educator Innovator is kicking off The Summer of Making and Connecting, including a MOOC on connected learning.  And if you have yet to experience an Edcamp, check out their site and see if you can attend one in your area, or better yet, host one.

How will you reflect on your practice this summer? What experiences will aid your rejuvenation as a teacher this summer? I look forward to reading your ideas.

Center for Teaching Quality is writing a series of blogs in partnership with Teaching Channel. CTQ is transforming the teaching profession through the bold ideas and expert practices of teacher leaders.

Meenoo Rami is a National Board Certified English teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. She also runs a weekly twitter chat for English teachers via #engchat. She is a teacher consultant with the National Writing Project and a member of the Center for Teaching Quality's Collaboratory. 

Thanks for sharing Meenoo! I think those outside the profession think that teachers are totally off during the summer months. Little do they know that teachers are always "teaching & learning" no matter what they are doing or where they are. We may not show it, but I think we are. My summer is spent doing a variety of play and "work" things, often times they can be both. I get to spend time doing the things I love and discovering new lessons that can come out of them. In Zumba class (which I rarely am able to take during the school year) I thought, this is would be great to incorporate into my first grade class for PE, dance, and perform it for the Latino Heritage Program for parents! Traveling to NYC and spending some alone time at the MET, made me realize how much I missed and LOVED teaching the history of art and have committed myself to planning a year-long unit for my students. Can I also mention that while touring the Brooklyn Bridge, ran into one a fellow teacher who was in NYC for the Writing and Reading Workshop institute at Columbia? We teachers know how to integrate work with play! I took some time here and there to look for resources available for teachers. I wrote some grants for field trips (Target) and projects that I hoped and DID get funded through And every now and then if you look hard enough there will be learning opportunities that pop up that you cannot refuse, like spending 4 days for $20 at a PD with colleagues to learn about Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core. There is so much you can do when you don't have to be in the classroom for 6+ hours of the day, but that doesn't mean you are not learning and growing while you are away. Happy Summer to all and Happy First Days to the teachers that have already started!
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Jane and Meenoo your comments are so true. Most people think that teaching is an 8 to 3 job. We also have that nice long summer break. I love to spend time each summer with both work and play time too. I love to watch the great lessons on teaching channel to really help me improve my practice. I read those books both for work and play that I have been putting off. I scour the internet and old materials whose time has come again. I really love to rework and and develop new lessons for the following year. I could not just reteach the same way each year. The challenge is to learn and change and adapt what we do. It is what makes teaching so fun. I can't say I change everything because after 30 years it is almost impossible but I love having the freedom, especially with common core, to come up with new and creative ways to make my classroom come alive.
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