When the last bell of the school year rang, my students weren’t the only ones that roared with excitement as they pushed and shoved their way out of the building. I did, too (internally!). I smiled from cheek to cheek as I imagined myself strolling the French Quarter of New Orleans, catching the Atlantic Ocean waves on Myrtle Beach, listening to Stevie Wonder’s sultry voice under the dusky lights of Las Vegas’ Park Theater, and gazing at the original Mona Lisa in Paris–vacations that were now just moments away.
But even with all the well-deserved excitement of impending domestic and international travel, I was also moved by something else I get to do every summer: grow professionally.
Some may ask: Who wants to think about work in June, July, and early August? But I would counter that summer is the perfect season for educators to take advantage of opportunities to improve their craft, uninterrupted.
Think about it: There are no students asking for help with their assignments, no parent conferences, no lesson plan revisions, and no fire drills. Now you can choose your own course. Which path will you venture down? Here are some suggestions:
1. Write grants
Learning the art and science of grant writing can open up endless doors for funding programs, projects, and resources that your class, school, or even district may need. More and more businesses, organizations, and foundations are attracted to teachers’ visions and are inclined to support them. You just have to do your research and be convincing.
Look into reputable foundations like Fund for Teachers, which has granted $30 million to nearly 8,000 teachers who wrote convincing grants. DonorsChoose is another platform that allows teachers to showcase projects and explain why donations are a must. Setting up a page takes minutes, and an effective pitch can earn your class the hearts and donations of viewers.
Last year, I took an online grant writing course, and the six weeks went a long way. I earned three grants from electricity company ComEd to fund writing projects.
2. Join a professional organization
Joining an educational organization is an easy and progressive way to grow quickly. You can run for leadership roles, take advantage of exclusive resources reserved for members, and use the group as a springboard to publish journals and facilitate conferences. What’s more, connecting to a network of educators opens up the pipeline for fresh ideas.
I became a member of The National Council of Teachers of English in 2013. Reading an article in their Voices in the Middle journal on student voice prompted me to start a drama club that focuses on sensitive issues like bullying among middle school students.
I also joined a nonprofit called Labor Notes, which helps organize labor unions. Becoming a member showed me practical ways to advocate for myself and my students, and gave me the tools to help others lobby for more. Since joining, I have spoken at three different conferences to help unionized teachers and nurses secure effective contracts.
3. Become a blogger
Blogging is another way to build up your professional presence. Whether we’re talking about vocabulary development or teacher leadership, we are all experts at something, and other educators, students, and even our parents stand to benefit from that expertise.
In my case, I just started blogging for my online college, American College of Education. Ideas are flowing, and my colleagues have already reached out to say thanks for providing a new perspective on teaching and learning.
4. Start those unit and lesson plans now
We know that when the school year starts, time will be a luxury, and one of the most necessary but time-consuming tasks in education is lesson planning. Research and my own personal experiences show that the best lessons come from well-thought-out lesson plans. Spending 30 minutes daily on lesson plans even for five days adds up to two-and-a-half hours of planning. By spacing it out, you can have the first semester planned out by the time the school year starts.
5. Enroll in school
Earning another degree is never a bad idea, and starting in the summer can alleviate the anxiety of going to school and work simultaneously. Summer is also a low-stakes period to analyze your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to time-management and content knowledge so you can adjust accordingly.
I started my doctoral program five years ago – a month before school started back. It was helpful because I was able to learn the expectations, create a study schedule, and stick to a routine by assuring myself that I would do well even when I was teaching.
6. Take a non-career related course
Maybe it’s learning to ride a motorcycle or taking a pottery class. Either way, engaging in a new hobby can work wonders. For example, I do not cook, but I just started a cooking class and I am learning so much about portions and the marination process. Though cooking is far from my forte, it's giving me real-world applications, which I can lean on while I’m teaching.
Performing one-on-one instruction gives educators more experience practicing differentiated instruction, patience, and lesson planning. Every summer, I tutor students that range from third to ninth grade. It allows me to build relationships, become a better role model, and learn and apply new strategies to help someone master a skill. Tutoring also allows me to keep up on the latest best practices, so I won’t just be complacent with past successes, but will welcome new ones.
I am not suggesting that all of these ideas be taken on in one summer, but one or two can keep the momentum going so that when the school year does roll back around, you won’t miss a step.