When I first started teaching I never liked hearing that infamous nine word phrase that teachers all too often hear from jealous folks who are not in the profession.
“It must be nice to have your summers off.”
Of course it’s nice to have the summers off…in theory. Who wouldn’t want to spend their days sleeping in, lying on a beach, sitting poolside or watching Netflix ’til the cows come home?
But the reality was that I wasn’t actually doing those things. It seemed I was always busy spending the months of July and August preparing for the upcoming school year.
As I gained more experience as a teacher I put a lot of effort into finding ways to work smarter and not harder. Teaching is challenging because there will always be a list of things to do, but over the years I came to realize the importance of recharging and the value it had in making me a more effective educator. I found lots of strategies that helped me to reclaim my personal time and find a much better work and home life balance.
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Below are five things I started to do during my contracted teaching hours each spring (instead of during my summer vacations) that had me super prepared for the new school year in the fall.
#1 Plan and Prep for the First Few Weeks
It’s important to collaborate with your teammates so that you are providing your students with similar experiences. This is not easy to coordinate when you are all on different schedules and spread out in different locations throughout the summer. As the school year winds down and you have all of your activities for the end of the school year ready to go, work together to set your sights on planning and prepping for the new year.
We always planned our first two read alouds and related activities (my favorites in 3rd grade were Judy Moody followed by Charlotte’s Web (I love the message of friendship as we build our classroom community and focus on developing a Growth Mindset). We also would copy and staple our writing journals, morning work and homework, and a back to school booklet of activities that is perfect for filling those random moments that pop up in the first few weeks.
The best part of planning as a team is that each teacher can take responsibility for copying and prepping a specific activity for the entire grade level. I placed everything into a copy paper box and placed it on a shelf in my closet and was ready to go in the fall…bonus…no waiting in huge copier lines with the back-to-school rush!
#2 Try Something New
Is there a teaching method or educational practice that you’ve had on your radar, but never tried? Teachers often think, “Maybe I’ll do that next near.” Why wait? Your current class has established norms and is up and running. They are the perfect group to try things out with because they know your expectations.
When I first started using a Math Workshop with Guided Math Lessons in my classroom I was going to wait until the new year for a ‘fresh start,’ but instead introduced it in the spring. This was perfect because it let me iron out the details, figure out the best ways for traffic to flow in my classroom and get feedback from my students. It was fantastic! Not only was I ready to hit the ground running in September, but it enabled me to identify and fine tune the specific math skills each individual student needed before progressing to the next grade.
What have you wanted to try? Think about things like book clubs, reader’s theater, paragraph of the week, socratic seminar, STEM projects or perhaps even alternative seating and jump in with your current cohort. You’ll be glad you did.
#3 Prepare Your Walls and Bulletin Boards
If you are fortunate enough to be staying in the same classroom next year then you may also be fortunate enough to take advantage of the opportunity to set up your wall space. I always recommend starting with a blank slate at the start of a new year, but you also want it to be inviting. Hanging fabric and bulletin board trim on your boards will provide a colorful backdrop for the first day of school and make it easy to start displaying anchor charts and student work right from the start. You can also set up your schedule area, birthday board, calendar and any other yearlong displays. Some teachers enjoy having their current class create a “welcome board” for the incoming students. If you plan to decorate with a classroom theme you can use the time to print and laminate materials and gather supplies. If you are looking for ideas on how to set up and decorate a classroom please feel free to download my free Guide to Classroom Decor.
#4 Fine Tune Your Procedures and Routines
Strong classroom management is essential to student learning and the key to good management is to plan, practice and implement procedures and routines for everything. Think about how things are running in your classroom now and identify areas that could be improved. Experiment with new routines and traffic flows until you find the ones that are most effective. Prepare a classroom routines journal by writing all the steps for everything you do. Include photos or better yet, video your current class modeling those routines. Show those video clips to the new class as you teach the procedures so they visualize the expectations and make them a habit.
#5 Declutter Your Classroom
Having an organized learning space will help keep children on task and focused and save you time and money by enabling you to quickly find what you need. Students LOVE to help and are perfect for tasks like sorting, testing markers, sharpening pencils, etc. Just be sure not to use class time for these jobs. I suggest setting up a day to have your kids stay after school and help out. They will be thrilled with the privilege and you’ll appreciate the things they get done for you. I have tons of ideas available here on The Clutter-Free Classroom to help you get your classroom looking great and functioning effectively. I would love for you to stay for awhile and look around.
Click on the tabs at the top to explore the ideas I’ve shared for decluttering, organizing, decorating and managing your classroom.
I’ve written a companion post to this one titled, 3 Boxes Teachers Should Pack Before Summer Vacation for the Upper Elementary Snapshots Collaborative Blog. My hope is that the combined tips shared will allow you to enjoy your vacation, recharge your teacher batteries, spend time with family and friends and then hit the ground running for the new year. Be sure to visit my there and read that post as well.