8 things you can do this summer to make back-to-school less stressful

Some teachers have no problem disconnecting from work over the summer and truly giving themselves a break. (Enjoy! Your time off is incredibly short, and you’ve earned it.)

But other teachers struggle to turn off their “teacher brains” and feel like the countdown clock for back-to-school is always ticking in their minds. It can be tough to relax when you know you have 70+ hour weeks ahead of you in the fall.

Here’s my advice to those of you who WANT to use part of your summer to get ahead for fall: focus on tasks that will create more time for you later. 

Generally, early back-to-school prep consists of daydreaming about cool ideas and decorating options. This can be fun and creative work, but if it’s the only thing you do this summer, you’ll probably find that your workload is still very heavy once school starts.

If you’re going to think about school this summer, think about ways you can set yourself up for success later. These 8 tasks will help you feel more prepared for the start of the year so you can relax more this summer…and they’ll help you truly get ahead so you work less in the fall.

8 things you can do this summer to make back-to-school less stressful: great tips plus a free live training

1. Identify the 3 biggest stressors you had last school year, and plan ways to streamline or simplify.

Did you spend too much time grading papers? Were you totally lost when figuring out how to differentiate instruction? Did you get bogged down in data collection and paperwork? Start brainstorming solutions so this year will be different! You can talk with other teachers (including those online), look for suggestions in teacher blogs or Pinterest, or read a book on the topic.

Be pro-active and take charge of your professional development! If some aspect of your work has been stressing you out, look for a better way. I promise you it’s out there!

2. Sketch out your new classroom arrangement.

Map everything out on paper (or with a digital tool like this one or this one) so you can move your furniture and set things up quickly on your first day back. Do the deep thinking now about where to store supplies so students can access them easily, and how you can organize your room to facilitate productivity and routines. Then when school starts, all you have to do is execute the plan!

3. Outline all of your routines and procedures (and when/how you’ll teach them.)

Writing everything down will solidify the procedures in your mind and provide a reference if needed for you (or a substitute.) If there were specific procedures your students needed reminders with all year long or that just drove you crazy, plan out a better way…including how to teach your expectations to students and model, practice, and reinforce them.

4. Write lessons plans for EVERYTHING you’ll teach during the first week of school.

You probably won’t follow them exactly or get to everything you’ve planned, but you should know which procedures you’ll want to teach, when you’ll teach them, and how you’ll teach them. Choose your get-to-know-you and community-building resources now so all you have left to do is decide which day to use them on. Having a precise written breakdown of what you’re teaching and when will help prevent those first-day-of-school nightmares that so many of us grapple with!

5. Organize your digital files and teaching resources.

Sometimes lesson planning is overwhelming because we have too many resources that we don’t really like. It’s kind of like opening your overstuffed bedroom closet and realizing you wear the same 10 outfits over and over again! Getting rid of things you don’t like will make it much easier to find the stuff you do like when it’s time to plan. So, use your summer to toss out or pass on any materials that you don’t absolutely love using with your students.

If you don’t yet utilize Dropbox to organize digital files, try setting up Dropbox folders for each unit you teach. Even if you don’t have the time and energy to organize your existing digital files this summer, you can at least use the Dropbox folders to add new resources as you add them, and you can add the older stuff to the appropriate folder when it comes time to teach each unit.

6. Map out a pacing guide for the year.

If your school provides one, go through and add specific activities you plan to use each week. If your school doesn’t provide one, make your own curriculum map so you know what you’ll be teaching each month. This will help you see the big picture of what you want students to learn and make it easier to toss out the activities that you clearly won’t have time for.

7. List the skills/standards you need more activities for, search them out online, then plug them into your pacing guide.

Start with the topics you dread teaching because you personally dislike them or because you have a hard time making them understandable and meaningful for kids. Look for teaching ideas that will improve these units now and save them in Evernote, a Pinterest board, or a Dropbox folder. Then, all you have to do during the school year is plug them into your lesson plans. It’s much more efficient to batch similar tasks, so go ahead and dedicate an entire afternoon to perusing Pinterest for all kinds of awesome materials now, rather than going on there every single weekend to find resources for just your current unit of study.

Write an outline of the main activities for each unit you teach. (For example, on day 1 of your geometry unit, you’ll show X video and do a brainstorming activity; on Day 2, you’ll do a hands-on investigation.) You can either create your unit activities outline within your pacing guide or in a list that you store with the materials for that unit. This will make lesson planning faster when you’re ready to teach the unit, and will also help you pace yourself appropriately to make sure you have time for the activities that have the biggest impact on student learning.

8. Watch the free live master class to learn how you can make time for everything that matters to you this summer.

5 summer secrets for a stress-free fall: how to get ahead on school stuff now and create more time for yourself once school starts

I’m offering a free live training next week to help you make this summer (and fall) your best one yet. If you want more tips and advice like you’ve read in this blog post, please join me for this 75 minute master class. I’m going to share how you can:

  • Create your end-of-summer vision (what do you want your life to look like when summer is over?) and select goals that will move you toward that vision
  • Use simple time-saving tips that will help you work smarter, not harder, right away
  • Implement 5 productivity strategies for home and school that will help you feel more accomplished AND allow you to truly relax
  • Design a strategy for using your summer to get ahead for fall, choosing key tasks to complete now in order to free up more time once school begins

Sign up here for the free live master class!

Have a fantastic summer–see you at the training!

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rebecca June 21, 2016 at 8:46 pm

Great ideas as usual Angela

I would mention however that I spent a lot of time in the past trying to plan out everything I was going to teach (or at least a rough plan) throughout the year and it sort of backfired on me. Once my Plc started meeting our plans veered quite a bit from what I thought everyone on my team would want to do. If you are switching grades/schools, or will have a totally new team/PLC (like I will next year) I would not delve TOO deeply into plans. Personally I am going to make a file for each unit I teach in math, reading, writing, science, and social studies and just put digital resources I have used in the past or might like to try in each one. Then it’s ready to go but I don’t have a ton of detailed weekly plans I end up throwing out.


2 Angela Watson June 22, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Great point about not spending too much time on plans if you’re new to the grade/school or if there’s a chance you could get moved. So glad you brought that up! I love the idea of focusing on organizing your digital resources–that’s going to save you time later on no matter what you end up teaching.


3 Becky Buckingham June 21, 2016 at 10:01 pm

I noticed that the time for the class was 8 EST. I
I’ve in PST. So what time would your class be and can I save it for later?


4 Angela Watson June 22, 2016 at 1:04 pm

Hi, Becky! Pacific time is 3 hours behind the east coast, so that would be 5 pm your time. On the sign up page underneath the time selections, you’ll see that it says “Show in my time zone” which gives you the option of seeing it in PST.


5 Ilse Bielen June 23, 2016 at 2:14 am

Hi Angela,
Thank you for the tips!
I wanted to join the webinar but… it’s at 2am my time :(
I would have considered getting up for it if I would have been on a holiday already but still have two and a half week to go.
Are there notes going to be taken that could be shared with teachers that are not able to join the webinar?
Kind regards,


6 Angela Watson June 23, 2016 at 8:06 pm

Hey there, I totally understand that it’s not possible for everyone to be there live. I’m going to try to make a recording of it, but you never know with technology, so I don’t want to make any promises!

Make sure you’re signed up regardless—that way if there IS a recording, it will get sent to you automatically the day after the webinar. Here’s the sign up link:



7 Ann Sielaff June 23, 2016 at 9:30 am

Hi Angela
I would love to watch your webinar, but I’ll be on vacation. Probably in the car at that time. Will there be a way to watch a recorded version later?


8 Angela Watson June 23, 2016 at 8:07 pm

I’d like to make a recording available, but don’t want to make any promises just in case! Make sure you’re signed up so the replay link will get sent to you automatically the day after the webinar. :)


9 gretta williams June 23, 2016 at 10:10 am

Thank you for this powerful reinforcement. Your points are so vital in the effort to reinforce and fine tune our mindsets as educators. I teach instrumental music in two middle schools. Planning ahead in this manner helps me in establishing effective classroom management from the start, a key ingredient in the success of my ensembles. Sometimes, I have been thrown a curve in one of my schools, which is an IB school, with its own schoolwide projects and themes.Thanks to the framework I plan during the summer, I have a starting point from which to make meaningful adjustments..almost without skipping a beat. (Sorry for the musical pun…I could not resist.)


10 Angela Watson June 23, 2016 at 8:08 pm

Hi, Gretta! Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m so glad this post was a helpful starting point for you!


11 Jeni Meyer June 23, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Same as Ann (previous comment) — we’ll be on vacation. Will a recorded version be available later?


12 Angela Watson June 23, 2016 at 8:09 pm

I’m going to try to make a recording of it, but you never know with technology, so I don’t want to make any promises!

Make sure you’re signed up regardless—that way if there IS a recording, it will get sent to you automatically the day after the webinar. :)


13 Tracy June 24, 2016 at 12:15 am

Will your course be available as an event that isn’t live, like a recording? 5pm for me here in California is prime dinner, bath, bed routine time with two crazy little boys. I love you ideas though and would love to see more.


14 Angela Watson June 25, 2016 at 2:42 pm

I totally understand! I’m going to try to make a recording of it, but you never know with technology, so I don’t want to make any promises!

Make sure you’re signed up regardless—that way if there IS a recording, it will get sent to you automatically the day after the webinar. :)


15 Sabrina Beckham June 24, 2016 at 10:42 am

I will also be on vacation. I’m signing up hoping it will become a podcast. I enjoy your podcasts very much. You have wonderful insight. More than anything, you give much needed validation to teachers.


16 Angela Watson June 25, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Thank you so much for your kind words, Sabrina! I agree that validation is often what teachers need more than anything. It’s hard to trust your own professional judgment when you are micromanaged and constantly told to do things you know aren’t best for kids. Hearing “you’re not alone, and you can do this” is so, so important! I will try to make the webinar into a podcast. :)


17 Marcy Garcia June 25, 2016 at 8:07 am

I am leaving the classroom to be an instructional coach. Will this webinar still benefit me? How?


18 Angela Watson June 25, 2016 at 9:15 am

Hi, Marcy! Yes, I think most of these strategies will still apply to you. You’re welcome to join in! However, it is geared toward classroom teachers.


19 Margie June 26, 2016 at 11:57 am

I wish I could join….but we’re in school until the 29th, and the 30th is a PD day here in Ontario!


20 Angela Watson June 26, 2016 at 2:09 pm

The webinar isn’t until 8 pm your time–hope you can catch us in the evening! :)


21 Michele McQuade June 29, 2016 at 9:53 am

Hi Angela

Your PD webinar was the most USEFUL one that I have “attended” all year long.


22 Angela Watson June 29, 2016 at 8:02 pm

Thanks so much for sharing that, Michele, and for making time to participate! So glad you enjoyed.


23 Yvonne Mason July 5, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Hi! This webinar sounds fantastic, and I like to attend. Is there any way to document my participation? My district may allow me to use this as PD credit. Thank you.


24 Angela Watson July 5, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Not at this time, but I’ll definitely consider it for future webinars.


25 Janny Jarvis July 5, 2016 at 7:41 pm

Hello Angela,

I missed the seminar trying to log on. Is this available so I can get the full seminar?


Janny Jarvis


26 Angela Watson July 5, 2016 at 10:19 pm

Yep! Just sent the replay out to everyone who registered. :)


27 Henry Childress August 2, 2016 at 10:54 am

I missed the webinar, but listened to the recording. We will begin school in a couple of weeks. As usual I came to my room to begin setting it up for the coming year. I was overwhelmed and not sure where to start. Even at this late date, your ideas have calmed my stress and given me direction to get my classroom, lesson plans, pacing and digital files together for the year. I am a chronic disorganized/procrastinator. Thank you so much for your much needed coaching. Listening to you has given me the spark I’ve needed. I am pumped and ready to plan my year!


28 Angela Watson August 7, 2016 at 6:24 pm

That’s so wonderful to hear! I am excited for you. :)


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