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Seven Ideas to Make the Most of Your Summer

Found in: Advice & Support

With summer stretching ahead of you like a tall glass of lemonade, you might be forgiven for thinking it'll be a nice time to do nothing. at. all. It's been a long year, right? But this isn't just the season of silence for teachers and education support professionals. Summer provides opportunities to renew and refresh, and is the perfect time to sow the seeds for a stand-out school year to come. Check out these ideas from your colleagues for making this your best summer yet.

Forget the required reading list for your students

Of course you want your students to read over the summer. After all, lots of research shows children, especially poor children, who close their books during summer vacation can lose up to three months of summer progress. But required reading isn't the best approach. Rather than a list of required reading or suggested reading that meets academic needs, we should offer kids a list of books you won't be able to put down, says Missouri educator Kim Broadley. Her suggestion is backed up by research from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, that found that allowing low-income children to pick out their own free books at spring book fairs not only helped close the summer reading gap, it worked just as effectively as summer school. Check out NEAs book lists for even more ideas!

Begin now for a better back-to-school

 Don’t listen to Mark Twain, who famously said, “Never put off ’til tomorrow what you can put off ’til the day after tomorrow.” He obviously wasn’t an educator! Late spring is the best time to plan for the first days of school. NEA-Retired member Kate Ortiz, the expert author of NEA Today’s “Ask Kate” column, advises her colleagues to ask students to write recommendations for next year’s students. “They [can] write about what they think those students need to know to be successful and get along in class,” Ortiz says, who recommends not only sharing those recommendations with incoming students, but also hanging excerpts, like “be respectful and you won’t get in trouble” on a bulletin board. (Another pro tip: Don’t start packing up your classroom early. Students will take the hint to check out.)  

Do some reading yourself!

Pull up a chaise, put up your sun umbrella, and page through a book that will enrich your professional life. Researchers have found that whether teachers read for personal fulfillment, professional inspiration, or just plain fun, their reading informs their instruction and adds an extra dimension to their teaching. “Read poetry, blogs, magazines, letters to the editor, and books on other cultures and countries,” suggests Michelle Commeyras, professor of language and literacy education at the University of Georgia and co-editor of Teachers as Readers: The Importance of Reading in Teachers’ Classrooms and Lives. Try forming a book group or sharing your literary musings online—GoodReads.com is an option. “It’s fun and, for some teachers, really transformative,” says Commeyras. (If you need a recommendation, consider NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s summer reading list: UNthink by Erik Wahl.)

Get involved in the governors’ races

Voters will elect governors in 36 states this November, from Texas to Florida, from Michigan to Maine. Don’t imagine this has nothing to do with you in your classroom or cafeteria: State governors sign state education budgets, and set legislative agendas around all sorts of education issues, including class sizes, instructional technology, charter schools, teacher evaluations, school accountability systems, state pension funds, collective bargaining, and more. “Politics plays a crucial role in everything you can do in your classroom and in your school,” says NEA-Student chair David Tjaden. To get involved, visit your state association website to sign up for legislative alerts, or register for NEA’s Education Votes weekly newsletter at www.edvotes.org.

Help feed the children!

On a typical school day, 19.6 million children are fed free or reduced-price meals. But when school kitchens close for the summer, despite the efforts of non-profits like Share Our Strength, one out of three low-income families report going hungry. Can you and your local union help? During the summer months in McLean County, Kentucky, food service director Vicki Hughes uses federal funds to cook for 275 children a day at local churches and community centers. “I wish I could feed the whole county!” she says. With a skeleton kitchen staff at one school open, Hughes relies on colleagues and community members to volunteer to deliver and coordinate meals. Meanwhile, educators from the Nellie Stokes Elementary in Delaware distribute books and food bags to needy families at least once during the summer. Their mode of transportation? A fire truck!

Take a lesson (literally) from your colleagues

There is nothing more useful to teachers than teacher-led professional development, so spend a little time this summer on the CC.BetterLesson website and poach a treasure to use this fall. More than 130 master teachers have shared more than 3,000 classroom-ready, Common Core-aligned lessons at the online project co-sponsored by NEA and Better Lesson. We know many teachers are unhappy with the rollout of Common Core State Standards—seven out of 10 have said it’s going poorly in their schools. But this collaboration promises to get helpful resources in your hands. “I am thrilled to participate in a project that allows teacher leaders to share their knowledge and experience on a national level, and I am equally excited to learn and grow from other teachers,” said master teacher Melody Arabo of Michigan.

Make the mind-body connection

During the school year, it's hard to find time for the doctor-recommended 30 minutes a day of exercise. (No, a racing mind does not count!) But with school out, you can find more time to take care of yourself. Consider creating a workout club with fellow educators, suggests Nora Howley, of NEA's Health Information Network. Or sign up for a class! Ballet isn't just for 6-year-old girls who love pink. Daria Plummer, a retired Connecticut teacher, recommends yoga. “I believe it is crucial that we quiet our minds and surrender ourselves to peace for an hour a day," Plummer told NEA's This Active Life magazine. “Aside from the physical and mental benefits that I have gained, I also appreciate that (yoga) has given me confidence to branch out and try other exercises, including Pilates and senior aerobics. I hope people realize that it’s never too late to learn something new.”

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