Tip #2 for Making Your Next School Year Easier

Now that summer is in full swing, you have time to... think! The harried pace of teaching doesn’t always allow for it, and yet being thoughtful about our teaching practice is what makes us better teachers. Take time now to look back and reflect on your year. What went well? What didn’t?

Number 2 on my list of 10 Things To Do This Summer To Make Next Year Easier is to

 First, celebrate your successes. Give yourself credit for the things you did well – there may be more than you realized at the time. Then figure out how you can replicate those conditions next year.

If everything wasn’t a stunning success, take comfort in the knowledge that you’re human(!). And then, with the benefit of some distance, look at the situation from a different angle. You may just need to tweak your approach.

Here are some questions to help guide your reflection process:

>>> What was the best part of this past school year?
>>> Were the learning objectives clear (and visible) to the students, and did your students meet them? Did they have fun?
>>> Were your assessments informative? How did you help those students who didn’t “get it?”
>>> Did you adequately differentiate? Could you meet more students’ needs with the addition of materials at different reading levels?
>>> Were you doing most of the talking, or did the students get to drive the conversation?
>>> How did your students respond to your classroom management style?
>>> What works – and what doesn’t – about the “flow” in your classroom? Do you need more systems to manage the papers and people?
>>> Do you want to incorporate more technology into your instruction? Do you have a plan for how to achieve that?
>>> Are you interested in exploring a collaborative arrangement with a teacher? Is co-teaching an option? How might that work?
>>> Did you like the order in which you taught your units, and the lessons within those?
>>> Did you achieve a good rapport with your students? How?

My favorite way to reflect on the year is with a pretty journal and some fun pens.  I just write a question at the top of a new page and get writing. 

It's true that thinking critically about your practice will invariably improve it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed while doing this, so after you’ve thought about your year, pick one or two areas to improve. And don’t focus too much on the lows. Reflect on what went right, too, and you’ll be in a better place, mentally, when the new school year starts.

Be sure to check back again soon for Part 3 of our summer series!

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

P.S.  In case you missed Tip #1, just click HERE.

Tip #1 for Making Your Next School Year Easier

True confession: I can be a bit of a procrastinator. I’m forever putting off those bigger jobs – like reshuffling my classroom – until summertime. And by then, I’m left with a pretty daunting list. But as anxious as I am to take advantage of those eight precious weeks, I’ve learned that it’s just as important to simply enjoy the professional perk we call summer vacation.

We teachers are lucky to get one, and it’s for good reason: While we may no longer need the time off to sow and harvest crops, we do need it to nurture ourselves. Teaching is all consuming. The fact that a term like “teacher burnout” exists is indication of just how much this job can take out of us. And that’s why, first in my series on 10 Things To Do This Summer To Make Next Year Easier is this:

 It’s vital that we teachers take time in the summer for things that we enjoy doing – not necessarily the things we have to do. That means taking naps in the middle of the day, if the mood strikes. Pick up that series you’ve been meaning to read, and plow through! Tend to your garden, take a trip, pamper yourself with a massage – whatever floats your boat.

Here are some more specific ideas:

--- Look into organizations that offer teacher discounts, such as parks, museums and zoos, and then take advantage of those.

--- Trade in your teaching hat for a student’s. If you’ve always had a hankering to learn how to knit, or cook, or speak Arabic, now’s your chance! Many municipalities as well as nonprofit organizations offer affordable classes over the summer months. Honing those other parts of your brain will make you a more well-rounded human and a better teacher.

--- Surround yourself with nature. We spend 10 months of the year within the confines of our classroom. The warm weather months offer us a rare opportunity to get outside. Find a hiking trail. Get on your bike. Join a softball league. Think of it as recess for teachers.

--- Hang out with your family (if you find that relaxing!). During the school year, we’re moms and dads to our students. Sometimes, our actual children (and spouses, partners, parents, etc.) can feel a bit neglected. Take some time to revel in your kids, your pets, whomever you define as family, without the pressure of having to get through that pile of grading.

--- Reconnect with friends. You probably spend more time with your colleagues than your friends outside of school; or maybe your colleagues have become your closest friends. But chances are, your conversations have been limited to the inevitable ups and downs of the workplace. Summer is a great time to hang out with your teacher buddies or other friends (or both, together!) and talk about something other than the broken copy machine.

Ready? Get set. Go – and get some rest. Check back soon for the next installment of 10 Things To Do This Summer To Make Next Year Easier!

Happy Summer!
Mary Beth

P.S.  Check out how I'm following my own advice...

Find all the tips HERE:  Tip 2Tip 3Tip 4Tip 5Tip 6Tip 7Tip 8Tip 9Tip 10

Blog Series: 10 Things to Do This Summer to Make Next Year EASIER!

If you’re like me (hint: Type A), you love a good list. I mean, really – is there anything more satisfying than crossing things off a list?

During the school year, I keep multiple lists going: one for home, one related to classroom business, another to instruction, etc. Let’s just say Post-It notes are my friends.

Come summer, my lists are decidedly fewer, but no less ambitious. I’m the girl who dreams of reorganizing cabinets and alphabetizing files. My goals have not always been realistic (like that time I planned to color code all my binders), or affordable (binders are expensive!); but they have helped me get through many a summer with a feeling of accomplishment. Because as tempting as it is to loll about and revel in the absence of school bells, I know I’ll be anything but relaxed when September rolls around and I’ve got nothing to show for my time off.

Over the years, I’ve made a careful study of the things most in need of getting accomplished over the summer (hint: not color coding). Now, I’m excited to share it with you, with my series “10 Things To Do This Summer To Make Next Year Easier.”

Throughout the next several weeks, I’ll be posting an idea that’s sure to inspire you.

If you can do everything on this list, I guarantee you’ll feel productive and prepared for the coming school year.

So get your pens ready – you’ve got some crossing off to do! 

Stay Tuned!
Mary Beth

Tips for Teaching Summer School

Raise your hand if you signed up to teach summer school.  That was me for many, many summers of my teaching career.  Just as the school year was drawing to a close, I found myself preparing for a new batch of students that would be progressing through curriculum at an accelerated pace.  

Let's face it, summer school is a very unique experience.  In my case my class periods were much longer, my students were brand new to me, the program was regional so I was in an entirely new building, and in a lot of ways it was the very last place most of the students wanted to be  That's why I made it my goal each year to not only help my students succeed, but to actually enjoy our days together...and here's how we not only survived, but thrived!

Make the classroom (even if it's a borrowed one) a welcoming place.  
Since most of the classrooms I taught in during summer school were not my own, I tried to get creative in making the space feel welcoming for students.  I found that it didn't take much to transform the classroom.  Here are some of the ways I decorated the room:

--- Hang a clothesline.  At the start of summer school I hung motivational posters like these.  Then, throughout the summer I used the clothesline to display students' work.

--- Buy a welcome mat.  Yes, a welcome mat and tape it down outside of your door.  It makes an instant positive impression.

--- Bring in a fun chair.  Create a cozy reading corner or design a classroom management reward system around a great chair.  The plastic Adirondack chairs are a great inexpensive option.

--- Design a bulletin board with pictures of your summer school students.  Use one of the bulletin boards in the classroom as a place to display pictures of your students working all summer long.  Just snap a few pics of them each day and print them out. Then, stick them up on the board.  It instantly builds community and helps students feel like this is their classroom, too.

Implement a positive classroom management system.

We all know that without a well-managed classroom, teaching and learning are virtually impossible.  During summer school I like to establish an easy classroom management system that holds students accountable for their behavior and is simple to implement.  

Behavior cards are perfect for this.  Just create two sets of cards (or find them for FREE HERE).  

One set of cards acknowledges good behavior and the other set redirects misbehavior.  The "Keep it Up" cards recognize students doing the right thing.  The "Stop" cards encourage students to stop inappropriate behavior.  They're simple and effective.  Learn more HERE.

Design lessons and activities that make learning interesting.

Keeping students' attention during the school year is challenging enough.  Add the distractions of beautiful summer days outside of the classroom window and it's even harder.  That's why I tried to keep my students on their toes by adding lots of variety to the ways they learned. Here are some of the ways I tried to make the summer days and learning unique:

--- Plan fun activities for the first day of summer school.

--- Send kids on learning scavenger hunts.
--- Work together with another class of students attending summer school.
--- Go outside.
--- Plan engaging learning centers/stations.

--- Invite in guest speakers.
--- Incorporate technology into lessons.
--- Bring in sweet treats for a little fun like popsicles.
--- Play lots of educational games.
--- Plan cooperative learning activities.

Teach lessons that pack an instructional punch.

Summer school is all about trying to teach a ton of content in a short amount of time.  I've found that the best way to cover a lot of instructional ground is with units that meet a bunch of learning standards at once.  My absolute favorite is this 6-week journey-themed unit that meets 38+ learning standards!  

With the summer school curriculum, students investigate journeys in the form of a short story, speeches, poetry, historic journal entries, and a personal reflection.  Each unit combines rigor and engagement as students read, write, listen, and speak about incredible journeys.

Set a predictable classroom routine. 

A structured routine not only helped my students, but it was essential to my survival in summer school.  I found that starting and ending the day the same way made planning so much easier.  Each day started with daily warm-ups to keep students busy from the second they walked into the classroom.  

Then, each class ended with a fun lesson refection or exit ticket.  

You know what other routine that I implemented into summer school?  Don't laugh, but I brought the idea of snack-time into my summer school classroom.  It was a game-changer!  Since students were with me for several hours each morning their bodies needed a bit of fuel to get them through the session.  I know that it's a very elementary idea, but trust me it was a wonderful daily routine!

If you're teaching summer school, I hope that you and your students have an opportunity to grow and learn together!

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

P.S.  Summer school is the perfect time to get students reading.  This summer reading project is 100% turn-key.  Just print and go!

Preventing the Summer Slide

Ah, the lazy, hazy days of summer. Time to rest, relax and recharge! Just not too much…

It’s tempting, for students and teachers alike, to succumb to summer brain. Students, especially, are at real risk of losing precious ground when school’s out.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in math computation skills over the summer months! Low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement, while their middle-class peers make only slight gains.

All that brain drain has a significant, lasting effect on students’ ability to achieve. And then there’s the strain it puts on you, who just spent the last ten months shoring up students’ skills, only to have that impact blunted by the directionless days of summer. We all know, too, how it feels to be met in September with students who seem woefully behind.

To help you prevent the summer slide, I have a few ideas that just might do the trick!

  Brain Waves Instruction B...  Click to Add More Boards! You may have already pinned from this page on 1 of your selected boards.  Click for more details Looking for ways to help students maintain and even grow their learning from their school year? Then, you're going to love this post filled with fun ways to prevent the summer slide. You'll find information about a creative summer reading project and a listing of other ways to put a stop to the summer slide!

One of my favorites is with this Summer Reading Project

Keep students reading and learning all summer long with this creative summer reading project!

For this, students read a book and complete a book report with a plot diagram, character chart, setting profile, theme analysis, personal review and a listing of other books by the same author. All of it goes in a manila folder students can decorate. 

Help students dig deep into their summer reading book with this fun and engaging summer reading project!

After editing, revising and gluing it all together, the final product is a fun, interactive and comprehensive case file that students (and their teachers) will be proud of.

What's not to love about these fun summer reading projects?  Students read a self-selected book and then get busy showcasing their understanding of their reading.  The final product is a file folder filled with their learning.  It's the perfect way to spend a summer and begin a new school year!

Gotta love this print-and-go resource for a fun and engaging summer reading project!

Looking for more ideas to prevent the summer slide?

> Compile a list of writing prompts, perhaps on postcards stamped and pre-addressed to you, to encourage students to keep their inner scribe sharp all summer long.

> Create a summer reading challenge, or direct your students to their local libraries, many of which have creative versions of these that include game boards and prizes.

> Set up a monitored Book Club Blog on your classroom website, where you and your students can meet virtually to discuss a juicy summer read.

> Come up with a fun research idea on a topic voted on by students. It can be anything random (a friend once did this for fun with other adults and learned more than you’d imagine about crows!).

> Make a simple bookmark where kids can record how many pages they’ve read (and perhaps a place where parents can sign and verify the totals). Copy it onto cardstock and entice students to stop in and see you next fall to show off their completed bookmarks – and maybe pick up a reward for their efforts.

> Take a few moments to search the App Store for grade-level appropriate student skill apps. Rare is the kiddo who doesn’t love to learn with technology. If they have access to a computer or iPad, this can be a great way to keep your students engaged!

So let summer begin… but put a stop to the summer slide. As the saying goes, you gotta use it or lose it!

Thanks for stopping by,
Mary Beth

P.S. Check back throughout the month of June for tips on how YOU can stay fresh this summer, and be ultra prepared come fall! 

End the School Year with Gifts for Students

It’s so close, we can almost taste it: Summer! We all look forward to it, of course. But the end of the school year can also bring on feelings of wistfulness for the students we’re sending on – which makes it the perfect time to reflect and say thanks to them with a token of your appreciation.

Check out 8 easy, fun, and even inspirational gift ideas for your giving to your students:

Inspirational Quote Cards

Here's a set of 24 unique,business-sized cards with memorable, inspiring words. Kids can keep them in their wallets, or with a magnet, on their lockers or refrigerators. 

Stationery and a Pen
Jennifer at the Simply Kinder blog gives her kindergarten students a baggie containing a pen, paper and envelopes, including one that’s stamped and already addressed to her at home. The idea behind this gift, which she explains with a cute, rhyming poem, is to help the kids practice writing throughout the summer.

Say It With Symbols
Kaylin at Sharpened Pencils & Post-It Notes came up with this simple idea: On a baggie with Smarties, Fun Dip and a bouncy ball, she leaves a note for her students telling them how “smart” they are, how much “fun” it was working with them, and to have a “ball” over the summer. Short, sweet and simple!

You can use the same idea with a beach ball or a Frisbee (“This year flew by!”).

Motivational Posters

Check out these five posters with tear-off messages that students can post wherever they’re most likely to see them. When they’re in need of a boost, all they have to do is tear off the message and tuck it someplace where they can refer to it throughout the day. 

Leave Them With School Supplies
Photo Credit

Here's an idea from Office Max.  Gather some useful school supplies that students can use over the summer to continue their learning.  Then, print off the ready-made tags with cute sayings like "Stay sharp this summer." Tie the tags to the coordinating school supply and you're all set!

Get the Sugar Rush Started
Photo Credit

Encourage your kids to “stay sweet” with a freebie message from Teachspiration. Sign your name and wrap it around a candy bar. Or tell them what a “star” they are, with the help of some Starburst candies.

Acrostic Poems
Your students have probably adorned many a Mother’s Day card with these:

M- magnificent
O- outstanding
M- magical

Now it’s their turn to receive a poem from you. Come up with a nice adjective for each letter of your students’ names and make a handwritten (or typed) memento to attach to a pencil.

Personalized Note Pockets

Write a personalized note to your students (there are two sizes to choose from, depending on the length of your message) and wrap it up in a fun pocket envelope. Nothing says “I care” more than a personal message from your teacher!

There you have it...8 simple ways to give a gift to your students at the end of the year.  I hope you find one that works great for your group of kids.

Wishing you a great end of the school year!

Mary Beth

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