Last Updated on June 6, 2022 by Stephanie
Let’s be absolutely honest here… teachers work during summer break. Yes, we don’t have to teach children, but all teachers do things for school over summer break. If you didn’t, it would be like a freight train was hitting you that first day back.
Now, I’m not saying that you need to log a million hours instead of hitting the pool. There are a few things, however, that will help you start the year without stress (or as little as possible).
- Reflect on the year before.
- Figure out any automated or simple running lists/items that you can regularly contribute to.
- Use Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers Wisely
- Clean out your digital files.
- Make things digital.
- Set up your planners/notebooks.
- Figure out a plan for self-care. (yes, I know, you hate that word because every staff meeting since 2020 has talked about it, but I’m saying it anyway)
Keep reading to find out about these ideas in more detail with some practical examples that might help you see the bigger picture.
Reflect As Soon As Possible!
While everything is still fresh in your mind, reflect on the previous year. Your teaching can only get better with reflection. Reflecting on the year before you really get into your summer break will allow you to remember more. Think about the things you were annoyed with. What about the things you said you would do next year? What things did not go well, etc. If you are already knee-deep in White Claws and a summer tan, you can still reflect on the year before.
10 Questions to Help You Reflect
Use this list of questions to help guide you if you need it:
- What were my favorite 3 things this school year?
- What were my top 3 challenges this school year?
- Was there something or a few somethings I kept saying “Oh, I’ll do that next year.”?
- What did I like or dislike about how I set up my planbook?
- Which spaces in my classroom could work better next year? How can I change those spaces?
- What did I feel like I was always using my plan time for?
- Which lessons or units do I absolutely want to do next year that I loved this year?
- Is there something that I feel I needed on a regular basis from my team or administrators?
- Were there things I was continually asked to do outside of my normal teaching?
- What were some tasks that I found myself doing daily?
This is a pretty good list as a starting point and may honestly be all you need to get a good start on things for the next fall. You’ll notice that the above list asks you to think back on your constants. What you needed on a regular basis, tasks you found yourself doing daily, and things you always spent your plan time on. The reason why I’m asking you to reflect on these is that this is where all your time savings can come in!
Reflection is what will help you figure out where you can save time and things you can do before the year starts. This brings me to the next thing you can do during summer break, which is to figure out simple lists and items you can create and contribute to.
Create Running Lists and Items
I’ve shared this example before in another post, but I do a greeting of the day with my students. It is usually a question like “Coke or Pepsi?”, “What is your favorite animal?”, etc. Something simple. At the beginning of the year, I changed this greeting daily (until I realized that I didn’t have duplicate classes on B/C or D/E days, so I could keep it up twice!). Last year, I decided that I needed to just keep a running excel sheet with all of these greetings. When I start running out, I sit down for a few minutes and I create some more. This is an example of a daily task that I could work ahead on. Instead of having to think about it every day, I opened up the doc and it was already done.
I’ve already been putting that greeting list together for next year!
This is great for things like journal prompts, videos, management items, lesson ideas, etc. I think teachers think too much. I really do. We are the managers of a thirty-ring circus every single day and have to constantly move this way and that to keep up with what is going on in our classrooms. Our brains are wired like this now. Keep running lists on your phone or keep a small pad of paper next to you when you’re working so you can write down different things that come to mind. Contribute to these as you think about them to help you have some things all ready to go.
Use Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers Wisely!
Yup, I said it. Both of these places are a gold mine of ideas and resources. You should definitely use them, but please please please don’t start there with an open-ended browsing session. This will cause you to bite off more than you can chew 90% of the time. Search classroom decor and all of a sudden you’re hot gluing seat cushions to milk crates or creating elaborate bulletin boards that you didn’t have time to create in the first place.
Do your reflection and then do your browsing. And while we’re at it… don’t compare yourself to Pinterest teachers! You are your own amazing being!
For example, if you wanted to have a bank of simple dice games or card games ready for the kids so you can throw those in, maybe you search TpT or Pinterest specifically for those games when you are ready to create a running list of those games. Upon reflection, you realized that you didn’t like anything about your “One and Only Ivan” unit except for the book. Cool… now go search.
These search engines and shops are made to suck us in. They want us to spend more time on them. Set a timer for 10 minutes, search for what you specifically need and then call it a day.
Chances are you’re going to find something you like on either of those platforms at some time this summer. Great! Now, where do you put it? This brings me to another awesome thing to get done over summer break: organize your digital files.
Summer Break is a Great Time To Organize Your Digital Files
I did a meeting with a team last year to help them with their Google Drive and I saw things. There are a couple of teachers I know, who shall not be named, that had a MILLION tabs open on their Chromebooks. This was to the point that I honestly don’t know how their device was still running. When I asked one of them about this they replied, “When I close it, I don’t know where it goes.”
They are not the only ones.
I understand that I am coming from a different place. I’ve got a Master’s degree in Educational Technology. I’m a techie nerd and I love it. Seeing those open tabs made my eye twitch so bad guys. Please take some time this summer to figure it out if you are this person! Most schools use some type of digital file system, and I would venture to bet that 8/10 times that is Google Drive. I’m going to do an entire post about organizing your Google Drive at some point this summer because that is something that will save you so much time!
Your Personal File Tree
One thing I’ve done in the past when I knew I needed to organize or reorganize my digital files is to create a file tree. On a piece of paper or in your digital notebook list out how you would like your files to be organized. For example, do you like materials for lessons organized by unit or by what quarter you teach them? Do you like to have all of your sub stuff in one folder? Below, I put a sample “tree” so you can see what I mean. I’ve got question marks next to a few things because when I go in, I might not end up going that route!
Once you’ve created it you can better understand how to move things around in your Drive or on your computer.
Purge and Rename
If you haven’t opened it or used it in the past 3 years (I’m writing this after the two major COVID years, so you may need to have some extra time with things), you should just delete it. No one needs extra files taking up space!
Unless you are using it as a template, delete anything that is specific to the previous year. If you really liked your newsletter format for the year, cool… save one of them, rename it as “Newsletter Template” and delete all the other ones. Simplify all of this for yourself!
Renaming is also a great thing to do. I don’t know about you, but our copier/scanner at school defaults to some obnoxiously long filename like a million letters and numbers long with .pdf at the end of it. First, you shouldn’t be saving it like that, but let’s be honest… you probably did in a rush to get it done! Rename things like this so you can more easily search for them later. The same goes for screenshots or images! These often get default names assigned to them. Rename them while you’re in there cleaning things up!
Get things digital if you can and it makes sense for you and your school. We’ve got projectors in our room and our district utilizes Google and Google Classroom. It makes more sense for us to have things we need digitally. Summer is a great time to do this! Make things and scan things! I recognize that I’m coming from a school district in the suburbs of Chicago, so this is why I say if you can and it makes sense for you and your school. I know that I am lucky to have those resources available to me!
If you do have this opportunity I want to share something I do that saves me all sorts of time. I have started curating things into one document or slide show. This is a teaching game-changer! I can’t tell you how much time this has saved me and how many times I’ve used things on these slides as fillers when something funky happens.
When you plan a unit out, open up a Google Slides presentation and dump everything in there that you’ll use for that unit. Pictures of worksheets, embedded youTube videos, pictures, journal prompts, questions, etc. When you organize them this way, everything is in one place for you to look at and display. The best is when you need to write sub plans. You can copy and paste the slides you need into a presentation for your sub!
This is then created for the following school year. You don’t have to do it all over again if you are teaching the same grade level and/or subjects! You can just keep adding to them year after year to freshen things up a bit!
Set Up Your Planners/Notebooks
Yes, I know you might not have your class lists or your exact schedules yet. That shouldn’t stop you from figuring out how you are going to plan this next year. Summer break is a great time to think about and research different planners and notebooks. If you haven’t gotten a chance, hop over to my post about Digital Vs. Traditional Notebooks/Planners: Teacher Edition to see the pros and cons of going digital or traditional with your planning.
I personally use planbook.com and LOVE it. I cannot sing its praises enough. Since it is web-based I can access it on all devices. Plans can be printed off, it is easy to bump lessons around, and it makes my life a color-coded happy teaching adventure. No, seriously… I love it.
However, I only use that for planning lessons. Everything else goes in my digital teacher notebook. I’m working like a crazy person to create a teacher notebook for all of you modeled off the one that I currently use in my life. My digital teacher notebook has checklists for students/grades, meeting notes, schedules, and all things I could possibly need. I couldn’t survive without my digital teacher notebook.
You can totally figure this out over summer break. If you reflected on the questions above, you will know what you want your planner to look like. Research what type of planner would work best for you and get excited about what you are going to use it for next year. If you don’t go digital, I highly recommend notebooks and planners by The Happy Planner because of their discbound system. You can insert and take out pages easily, making it easy for you to customize as your year goes on. Digital notebooks and planners are also highly customizable, so if you’ve got a tablet, check that out. In fact, you can grab a digital notebook to try right here on my site by clicking on the image below. These are meant to be used with PDF annotating apps like GoodNotes5 (my personal favorite), Notability, OneNote, etc.
Figure Out a Plan For Self-Care
It is the buzz term that we’ve all been hearing in staff meetings: “self-care”. All the people who had to be home with their kids during remote learning finally realized that a teacher’s job is so much more than they ever thought. A spotlight was really turned on teachers during the years of COVID and it put a lot of strain on the profession. We are burned out. All of us.
You may be a fresh-out-of-college teacher reading this, so let me tell you a few things I’ve learned in my 16 years so far. Those of you who’ve been around a while could stand to listen up too:
- You are a human before you are a teacher. (Remember your humanity and don’t sacrifice it because of your profession)
- Take the damn sick day.
- Along the same lines… never feel guilty for taking the whole day off for a half-hour appointment.
- Never eat lunch at your desk… don’t work through your lunch… no matter how much you have to do… take the break.
- Turn off email notifications during the evening and weekends (make checking it your choice)
- Being a teacher is absolutely a part of you, but it is not all of who you are. Find a hobby or outlet (mine are quilting and CrossFit) that you love.
Check-in with yourself often during the year. During summer break use some time to figure out things that you enjoy doing. How can you fit that in during the school year? What else can you fit in during the school year to help you maintain some sanity when you need it most?
Final Thoughts About a Teacher Summer
It is my hope this list of ideas helps you. I started this blog with my friends and myself in mind. I see people struggling with their stress in a way I’ve never seen before. As an educator, I’m seeing it in our kids as well, and that worries me. It is not my intention to say that all teachers need to be like the person below sitting pool side working on lesson plans. Heck to the no.
However, again, I started this blog with my friends and myself in mind and know that we all do school work in the summer.
My purpose here at Creating Time For Life is to help others realize their potential while also helping them plan their days and their futures. Teachers are definitely some of my favorite people. I love my colleagues and I love my friends who are also educators. We are a special breed of hard workers who often feel an overwhelming amount of stress. I’m hoping that you have an awesome Summer break and spend a lot of time with family and friends. Take some time to reflect on things when they are fresh in your mind and see if you can make your life a bit easier next year.
Go do extraordinary things… and tell me about them in a comment below.