How can you use your summer to get ahead for fall when you don’t yet know your schedule or the needs of the students in your classroom?
That’s the question I set out to answer with a special education teacher named Claire. She works with kids in grades K-6 and actually splits her time between 2 schools, so she’s at one school with one group of kids in the morning and another in the afternoon. Claire’s caseload can change a lot from year to year and that makes it difficult to plan ahead.
So, I had Claire hop on a coaching call with me, and we talked through some systems she and any teacher can create during the summer that will make the following school year easier to manage. We discussed about getting digital files organized, getting procedures in place, and so on.
I then challenged Claire to figure out 2-3 of her biggest time-wasters and use her summer to figure out a better way. It’s very hard to find the time and mental bandwidth to take a step back during the school year and analyze systems, so summer is really perfect for that. And when she told me what her biggest time suck is–collecting data on student progress and grading their writing–she had a really big aha moment that I think is going to resonate with you in a powerful way, too.
Claire and I dug really deeply into how to analyze if something really has to be done, if the things we perceive as mandated are in fact requirements, and how to analyze teaching practices through the lens of whether they’re actually effective for kids rather than if they’re the way they’ve always been done, and they way everyone else does them.
You can listen in on our conversation via the audio player below, or just check out the key highlights I’ve outlined underneath.
Click below to listen in on the coaching call, or download the audio to listen later!
Focus on tasks that will create more time for you later.
Your goal should be to get systems in place that will simplify teaching and reduce the amount of work you have in the fall. Think about the tedious, time-wasting tasks that plagued you throughout the school year, and figure out a system that will save time.
Did you answer every email one by one as it came in throughout the day? Plan how you can create “office hours,” which are designated times you focus on responding to them all at once.
Did you waste time digging through files trying to find specific activities or worksheets? Plan how you can organize your resources more intuitively, and get rid of the clutter.
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, summer is a great time to plan out a better way…including how to teach your expectations to students and model, practice, and reinforce them.
You’ll probably have to teach routines and procedures no matter what group of students you have next year, so this is a worthwhile exercise even if your exact teaching assignment is still up in the air. Get the deep thinking done now so you all you have to do is tweak things in the fall.
Sketch out 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!
Organize your digital files and teaching resources.
Sometimes lesson planning is overwhelming because we have too many resources, and a lot of them are things 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 resources 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. The nice thing about Dropbox (and Google Drive, and similar utilities) is that you can access your files from any device. Either way, just find a way to name and organize your folders that works for you, whether it’s by grade level, content area, or some other category. Use your intuition, since that’s what’s going to help you find the resource or file later.
Find activities and materials online for the units you know are weaker.
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. Then you can get ahead by listing out the skills/standards you know you need more activities for, and search them out online.
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.
Identify the 3 biggest stressors and time wasters you had during the previous 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 the upcoming 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 proactive and take charge of your professional development!
If some aspect of your work has been stressing you out, look for a better way over the summer so no matter what happens during the school year, you know you have a wide range of resources that will help you tackle your biggest problems.
I have an awesome free resource to help you dig deeper into productivity issues–a free video series called 5 Summer Secrets to a Stress-Free Fall.
I’ve broken the training up into 7 short videos, and you get access to them all at once on a single page. You can watch them whenever it’s most convenient for you.
There’s also a note-taking guide and some printables, and an audio-only version, so if you’re used to listening to me on the go, you can do that with this training, too.
In the training, I’m sharing practical time-saving strategies and simple mindset shifts that will help you:
- Discover how to create your end-of-summer vision (what do you want your life to look like when summer is over?)
- Select attainable, realistic goals that will move you toward that vision
- Learn simple time-saving tips that will help you work smarter, not harder
- Explore 5 productivity strategies for home and school that will help you feel more accomplished AND allow you to truly relax
- Get ideas for using your summer to get ahead for fall, including key tasks that can be done now to free up more time once school begins
You can complete the entire training in less than hour, and it could be one of the most impactful things you do all summer.
This post is based on an episode from my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new 15-20 minute episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead.