3 more weeks! That has been a common refrain I have heard as I’ve been wrapping up coaching visits this month. The sun is out, testing is almost over, and teachers are feeling that ever-heavy load start to lighten a bit as they get ready for a much needed break. Now, I’m no fool. I know that most teachers may be “off” yet spend their summers teaching summer school, going to professional development, writing curriculum, and MAYBE getting a few vacation days in there somewhere. A teacher’s summer is not always the picture of serenity that those outside of the profession sometimes perceive it to be. And while many may criticize or roll their eyes at the “need” for such a break, I propose that summer is a teacher’s 20% time--you know, that whole thing Google started that allowed its employees to spend 20% of their work time on projects of interest and exploration. Twenty percent of 12 months is 2.5 months, so it makes sense that summer is a critical time for teachers to explore and may be the very time where the most creative, innovative teaching ideas are conceived. So, I offer 4 tips for getting the most out of your upcoming 20% time:
1. Chill out- Seriously, for many teachers, summer can be hard. After 9 months of constant decision making and stress, it is difficult to know how to sleep in or just do nothing. If you want to be creative, though, you have to let your brain have some time to wander. Don’t feel guilty. Innovation and creativity need some breathing room. Take walks. Lay around the house. Sit by the pool. Color, journal, paint. Sit in the quiet. Stay up late. It may feel strange, but lean into the relaxing. I have had to learn to do this, and it still feels awkward at times. I am a busybody and like to be “productive”, so I have had to learn to schedule time for reading or just doing nothing. I know my creative process. It takes me at least a day or two to unwind from the work before my brain can truly start wandering. Give yourself a break, and take the first few days or weeks that you have and think about things other than school.
2. Connect- Maybe you have wanted to see what Twitter was about, but you just haven’t had time during the year. Summer provides the perfect season to explore and build a PLN. I have grown to love Twitter, but I used to only use it when necessary for work. I didn’t see the point. When I started working for myself, I realized I didn’t have a team of educators that I could talk to on a daily basis and only a few that truly understood the work I do. So, I started exploring Twitter chats. I’ve found a coaching chat (#educoach) on Wednesdays that has offered great encouragement, a chat of Arkansas educators on Thursdays (#eduar) that has introduced me to some fantastic ideas and has led me to other chats that I tune into as often as I can now (#kidsdeserveit, #tlap). Facebook also offers group and bookclubs that can be beneficial. Whatever you are comfortable with...and especially if you are not comfortable!...try one.
3.Collect-In the past 2 months, I have probably ordered 10 or more (see pic!) professional books that I am hoping to read during a couple of the weeks of downtime I have in early July. I am a self-confessed nerd when it comes to books of any kind, but especially professional books. I get excited when my Reading Teacher or Educational Leadership magazine comes in the mail (yep...I get the print edition along with online because I love to highlight and dog-ear pages). There is typically a pile of magazines and/or books on any given landing space in our house. I typically buy them and skim through them for nuggets of knowledge during the year as I am creating trainings or trying to help a district with something and need to learn more, but I don’t get time to really dig into them and internalize the ideas until I have that much-anticipated vacation time. I encourage you to not only read within your field, but also outside of your field. If you are going on vacation, stop by the Hudson News in the airport and grab a Popular Science, Economist, Wired, Forbes,etc...You’ll see so many ideas that you can apply to teaching that you may not have considered before. Aside from just reading, collect the ideas. Whether it is in the highlights feature of your Kindle, in a notebook, or in a Google doc, capture the ideas, quotes, and activities that you find in your reading. It makes remembering (and finding) them much easier!
4.Create- Sometime around mid-July or early August, after your brain has had some time to rest, let it create. Teachers are some of the most creative people on the planet. I see it every day in classes. One of my favorite questions to ask this time of year is “What will you be thinking about this summer?” or “What do you want to create this summer?” I ALWAYS get an answer because most of the teachers I know are constantly refining their craft. Remember, creativity comes in many forms. For me, my creativity is at its best in the form of problem-solving. I love to have a problem, be given certain parameters, and figure out how to make it happen. Doesn't sound artistic, huh? Well, that's my art, though. Your creativity may manifest in the innovative ways you organize your room or the systems you create that allow your students to be independent. When you are constantly pressed for time or under huge amounts of stress, you can forget how energizing creating can be. Summer is the prime time for creating those things that have been in your mind all year. Just do it!
I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the school year, and take time to rest, relax, and revive your creativity in the coming months! I’d love to hear what you hope to think about or create this summer!