A few weeks back, there was some Twitter buzz on what good teachers should or should not do with their summer break. Should we be learning as much as we can, preparing for our new students, and collaborating with our PLN? Should we be 100% unplugged, relax with our family, and not think about school until the night before we go back? Last summer, I wrote about Navigating the Sea of Shoulds, and pushing back against all the things we should do.
We all have our own summer priorities and ways we want to spend this time off. The key here is to find what works best for each of us to ensure we reach the first day of school with our whole and rested selves!
I reflected on my school year in last week’s blog post, and mentioned that it was a stressful and emotionally draining year. I didn’t quite realize the full extent until now, as I am struggling to come out of the fog. As much as I have relaxed at home and traveled to present at conferences (all of which help me decompress), I still feel the weight of the year.
As educators, we worry about kids and the “summer slide” where they lose some content knowledge during their time off. My district has only 6 weeks off for summer–a decision made before I entered the district 7 years ago, and presumably to help mitigate the summer slide.
What we don’t talk about is teachers and the summer slide! I know my audience is mostly friends on Twitter, so maybe this doesn’t entirely apply to this crowd, since we all embrace a growth mindset and are seeking opportunities (via Twitter) to grow as teachers and leaders. Nonetheless, how can we make sure we are intentional with our time, even during our summer break?
My take? I’m going to take the same advice/summer assignment I give to my students!
Read a Book
This one is easy. You don’t need to tell me twice to go read a book! I’m hoping to read a mix of YA lit, education books, and nonfiction this summer. Plus, I’ll sprinkle in a few audiobooks during my plane flights. Even with all my travel so far this year, I’ve only finished 2 books.
And, I admit, I’ve been watching more TV than I usually do–with new seasons of Masterchef and Food Network Star (really, the only two shows I regularly watch!), lots of baseball games, and the World Cup.
I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on some of my summer books on my book blog!
I want to return to school with a few more recommendations for my students. And I hope they have some for me too.
Give Someone a Hug
When I give this homework assignment to my students, I’m met with some incredulous looks. Yes, yes, I am asking you to go hug someone! Yes, it can be me!
This assignment is less about the hug, and more about seeking out people who we value, trust, and enjoy being around.
I’ll be at ISTE next week. Come find me, give me a hug, then let’s take a selfie!
It’s so easy for me to spend an entire day sitting on the couch, mindlessly scrolling Twitter, eating ice cream, and reading books. I know there are plenty of people out there that “go outside” is second nature. It’s like, third nature for me (if that wasn’t a thing, now it is). I have a hard time getting myself there, but once outside, I’m happy!
One of my favorite places in San Diego is the San Diego Zoo. With my membership pass, I can always bring in a guest for free. When I think about ways to get myself outside longer than walking my dog, hanging with the animals at the San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and learning about endangered species sounds like an excellent idea! And, this leads me to my next point…
Summer is a great time for learning something that interests us! I don’t assign my students summer reading or experiments for science. Instead, I want them to spend this time learning something new on their own. We are surrounded by so many sources of knowledge, from videos, to the internet, to local museums, to family members.
One great thing about San Diego is that different museums in Balboa Park are open to San Diego residents on Tuesdays (see the schedule here). I’ll be around for a few Tuesdays, and I look forward to visiting some museums.
I know I owe it to myself and my future students to take care of me. It feels 100% selfish at times, but I know ultimately this investment will pay off down the road.
I did a better job of incorporating social media into my classroom, both through interacting with students and by allowing students to take over posting responsibilities. There is still more I’d like to do next year, but for now, I’m happy with how our classroom accounts are going.
Common Sense Media Certified School
This year, we worked hard and became a Common Sense Media Certified School! I used the Common Sense Media curriculum, recreated the lessons using Pear Deck, then shared them with staff (read more here). Each department and grade level was responsible for teaching one 45 minute lesson. My teachers appreciated that there was little prep work they needed to do, since everything was included in the Pear Deck slides. Even some who are hesitant with technology dove in! This also produced fantastic conversations, both with staff and with students. By no means have we solved our cyberbullying problems, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Next year, we will recertify during the fall semester. And, I am revising the curriculum to push out district-wide so our district can become a Common Sense Media Certified District!
Hosting a student teacher
I blogged about my experiences having a student teacher back in January. I didn’t get placed with one for the spring semester–HR does the placements, not the SDSU cohort leads. I loved being able to reflect on my own teaching, and help someone else build their strong foundation. In spring, we had 2 student teachers down the hall from me, and I enjoyed getting to know them. Together we reflected, talked about successes and challenges of teaching, and continued to build strong skills. Even if I wasn’t their guide teacher, I appreciated our reflective conversations!
But, this year was really stressful…
Honestly, this felt like my worst year teaching. Not the teacher skills part, but my stress level was above and beyond any of the past years. I had a lot going on, both at work and outside of work, that made it difficult to stay focused on the big picture. There were plenty of moments where I was in survival-mode, and I know my lessons were just so-so.
I think this is called burnout. I don’t dislike teaching or my kids, however the stress overshadowed a lot of joy this year. I realized I needed to take some drastic actions to preserve my mental/emotional health, so I did an April no-work challenge. I didn’t know how much I needed some non-teaching hobbies! I spent more time crocheting, playing with my dog, reading, and doing nothing.
Additionally, student behavior tanked. I’m not sure what exactly was going on–there was way more drama, fights, and kids getting referrals than any year I can remember. While I won’t speak to our front-office discipline, I do know that I found classroom management challenging at times. Classroom management is one of my strengths, and overall my kids were great at our routines and following lab procedures. The biggest roadblock in classroom management was the more emotionally draining part of knowing that my kids are dealing with all kinds of home and school issues. There were dozens of moments where I had to help a student calm down or process something before we could get into our science. Even if this was incredibly stressful (and definitely not sustainable), I appreciate that I have the relationship with my students where they know they can be real people.
Finding the positives
As I scroll through my Google Photos, there are so many fun moments this year. It’s a good reminder that despite the stress, I had a great time!
More so than any other year, I got way more hugs from my kids! I had a few that regularly hugged me, and others who surprisingly wanted hugs. I’m a hugger, so this makes my teacher heart happy. And, with all the emotional challenges for my kids, I ended many of our conversations with, “would you like a hug?” They almost always said yes! With that, there were also many incredibly genuine “I love you” moments. I am confident that my students left my class knowing they are loved and appreciated for who they are, no matter their identity, the decisions they make, or their circumstances.
Lastly, I wouldn’t survive teaching without my incredible colleagues. My work friends are seriously the best. They’ve hugged me through a lot of challenging moments, and cheered for me when things go well. And, I’ve been able to do the same for them. It seemed like every period someone would drop by my classroom, either to grab something from the printer, informally observe, or grab a Diet Coke from my fridge.
With the informal observations, I started keeping our school’s reflection form on a clipboard, and I’d hand it to someone as they dropped by. I won’t dwell too much on this, but I didn’t have a single walkthrough observation from an administrator this year (with the exception of a 10 minute observation for my formal evaluation); even if I’m a “good teacher” I still have areas where I can improve. I crave feedback, and I’m grateful our school encourages teachers to observe each other! Of course, I returned the favor as I dropped in during my prep period.
Another set of colleagues I greatly appreciate is our science PLC. They are awesome, supportive, and think critically through all kinds of problems; it has taken a long time to get to this point, and it all comes down to building relationships!
Of course, I couldn’t do any of this without my PLN! I love connecting with you all on Twitter, incredible conversations and support over DMs, and traveling and working with friends from all over the world at summits and custom workshops.
Rest. Relax. Recover.
I’m not ready to set goals for next year, and that’s ok. I need to give myself time and permission to take care of me!
The blog post below is co-written by many members of the 2017-2018 Teacher Leadership Academy, and cross-posted to Amy I’s blog!
A brief note from Mari: I am grateful to Amy Hunt and Amy Illingworth for providing us this experience! For my blog, I have put my own contributions in italics.
What is TLA and how did it come to exist (Amy I.)
The idea for the Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA) came from our district’s Title II committee last spring. As we were brainstorming how to build teacher leadership capacity across the district, the committee agreed to two key pathways: teacher leadership book studies and a teacher leadership academy. I found a partner in another Amy, a district leader colleague who works in HR. We began to create a plan for the year of learning. The committee helped create a promotional video about the academy, with thanks from our communications department. We sent this out in an email inviting teachers to attend an informational meeting to learn more about the TLA.
Our goal was to create an application process so that we could find a relatively small cohort of teachers who wanted to participate in this monthly professional development opportunity; I think our initial goal was 12-20 participants. We received interest from nearly 25 teachers. We brought our Title II committee together to review applications and we selected 17 teachers to participate. Two of those had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, so we ended up with a cohort of 15.
We scheduled meetings once a month for two hours after school, which teachers were paid to attend out of our Title II funds.
What made teachers want to join?
I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because it provided classroom educators opportunities for personal and professional growth, without the pressure/expectation of taking our work into administration. Teachers being supported with time, collaboration and reflection is empowering and engaging for us to cultivate at leaders in our professional learning communities and schools. (Alicia)
I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because I wanted to gain new skills I could take with me back to the classroom. I also hoped to learn leadership skills I could take with me as an administrator. I wanted to gain as much experience as I could prior to completing my admin credential. I also wanted to learn new tactics for dealing with various issues in the workplace, particularly with issues that may arise in a PLC. (Sophia)
I wanted to join TLA because I was looking for the next step in my professional development apart from the administrative track. I was so excited to learn this was being offered. I was (and am) eager to continue growing and excited at the prospect of receiving mentorship from district leaders as well as learning and collaborating with others in the cohort. (Melody)
Since my long-term professional goal is to mentor current teachers and teach credential courses, the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy provided me with a important stepping stone in my journey towards that goal. Receiving mentorship was an attracting factor. As leaders, we take care of our colleagues and students’ needs and sometimes put aside our own needs. I had forgotten what I need to do to make sure I am taken care of, so that I can better take care of others. Knowing that I was going to be nurtured by Amy and Amy, as well as other colleagues in the district, was a driving force in my decision to apply for the program. (Anna)
I joined the TLA cohort because I was concerned with a growing trend of plucking “qualified” teachers out of the classroom environment to serve in administrative roles. My concern was twofold: first, that we would thin the ranks of quality practitioners, leaving less mentors and dedicated classroom teachers; and, second, that this inadvertently told teachers that there was a ceiling to professional growth as a teacher, and if they wanted to aspire to anything higher, they had to become an administrator. The experience of TLA gave perspective on the district’s growth of leaders both in teachers and administrators as well as opportunities for teacher leadership. (Melissa)
I applied for the Teacher Leadership Academy, eager to improve my skills as a leader. With no desire to pursue the administrator track, I found myself with a lack of growth opportunities within SUHSD. Even though I was hesitant to take on any more commitments for the 2017-2018 school year, I knew this was necessary; and, the cherry on top was that it was led by Amy I, who I look up to as a strong leader. After our first meeting, I realized that this would be, by far, the best in-district professional development I had ever experienced! (Mari)
Enjoyable experiences and anecdotes from the TLA experience
I appreciated the time to collaborate with teachers across our district. Getting to hear experiences from different departments and schools allowed me to learn more about not only teaching practices, but how to use professional learning communities to support teachers and students. (Alicia)
I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent getting to know other teachers from different sites, understanding the dynamics of different school sites, different ways to engage, and having something to take away from each session. Although I was unable to attend every session, I was pleased at what I learned and the growth I experienced after being a part of the TLA. (Sophia)
I appreciated all the thoughtful materials shared, but I most appreciated the lens that we were asked to look through- a loving and compassionate one that promoted empathy for all personalities. Fun themes that thinly veiled professional challenges, like herding cats, helped frame the monthly growth conversations with self-awareness. (Melody)
I very much appreciated how every monthly meeting was thoughtfully planned out and engaging. After a long day of work it was a lot of fun to go to the teacher leadership academy meetings because not only were they informative but they included many hands on activities. I specifically enjoyed the role playing activities, because it provided me with a new perspective. It helped me understand how to work with different personalities which is important to know how to do as an educational leader. Thank you for all the support, strategies and feedback that was provided to us. I will definitely be putting what I learned into practice. (Maria C.)
Takeaways that have impacted teacher leadership
The time spent role playing, discussing personal strengths and areas of improvement, and having courageous conversations has impacted my teacher leadership. I feel better versed in not only how to manage a team meeting, but to also build and cultivate positive relationships with my peers. Emotional intelligence is pivotal for high performing teams. Through TLA, I am prepared for effective collaboration centered around student growth and success. (Alicia)
I particularly enjoyed asking for feedback and receiving feedback from colleagues, including the principal at my school site. This had the most profound impact on my teacher leadership. It gave me the courage to continue to speak up, while also continuing to work on myself. I feel that I have received valuable tools that I can utilize alongside my peers. (Sophia)
Amy and Amy did a fantastic job leading our cohort through a series of activities, reflective questions, and challenges that pushed us to dig deep into our own perspectives. I enjoyed learning from teachers from across our district. One of the most memorable activities was when we talked about how to deal with “difficult” people; acknowledging that there are different ways individuals can be difficult, helped me accept that the only thing I can control is my own actions and reactions. (Mari)
I appreciated the candid conversations shared that reinforced how each of our journeys are normal because of the challenges we have. The themes explored made me feel more capable in the struggle and gave me tools to gracefully handle situations that may arise. My biggest takeaway though, has been the power to say ‘NO, I do not have the bandwidth for that!’ Realizing that the prosperity of my department does not rest on me; I cannot, nor should I, be the one to keep things afloat. If something is broken, let us shine some light on it and resolve things together!These realizations have shaped the way I interact with my PLC and we are stronger for it! Sincerest gratitude to Amy I. and Amy H., for broaching the tough subjects! (Melody)
I absolutely loved my experience in the TLA, and I am craving more opportunities to grow as a leader. Anna and I tweeted that we need a year 2, and no matter if there is funding or not. We’d love to have Amy I. lead us again, and if that is not possible, we will build our own growth opportunities. Maybe that’s the natural progression of an opportunity like this? We’ve been empowered to grow as leaders, and there’s no stopping us! (Mari)
This has been a gift- if there is an opportunity for TLA YR2, I am there!! Whether there is something structured or not, I will continue to develop myself as an individual and as a teacher leader, reach out to those who feel like I have, and to always continue learning, as Amy I. says. Every year gets better! (Melody)
Each May, our science department hosts Science Night. It has been a lot of fun to involve our school, local high schools, and community in science! Many students bring their families, and participate in labs and activities together. Additionally, we invite local museums and science organizations to set up interactive displays. I love science night!
Since most of the work we do is digital, there isn’t a ton of student work to physically display. Instead, we display interactive labs. To show off student work, I have them each create a slide in a collaborative deck to showcase their work. Then, this is projected as a slideshow all night.
This is a perfect way to have students reflect on their learning or on a particular assignment. Each student claims a slide, adds in a piece of work they are proud of, and reflects on it.
Here is a template you can try with your class! Duplicate the portfolio slide x # of kids in your class.
A few tips for getting started:
This is a perfect time to talk about digital citizenship, especially not intentionally editing someone else’s slide. No matter the age level, everyone needs this reminder.
Encourage students to get all the content on their slide first, before decorating. Otherwise, a student may spend 2 hours finding the perfect font for their name.
Do a virtual gallery walk! Play some music, and have students scroll through the slides. When the music stops, they add in a comment (try using TAG feedback!) where they stopped.
If you have a school or class open house or display night, play these reflection slides in the background. On Slides: File > Publish to the web > pick your settings, including “restart slideshow after the last slide” > publish > paste the link in the address bar.
Try using this same idea for an introduction slide deck for all your students! Replace the work section with a selfie, and answer a few basic questions, such as what are your hobbies?
Out of the classroom? I’ve seen schools/districts with a tv in the front office. Have each teacher create a spotlight slide to sprinkle between announcements and important information.
PS. When you iterate on this and make it better, I’d love to see your example! Add it in the comments below, or share it with me and I’ll link it in this post.