Playing at the splash pad with my niece and nephew. Watching the Women's World Cup at a local pub with friends. Netflix marathons. Sleeping in. Hiking in the mountains. Reading YA novels and my Twitter feed at leisure. Attending professional development without worrying about creating sub plans. While the kid in me is inclined to deny the joys of summer are winding down, the adult in me knows better.
As a self-starter and creature of routine, I need my own "Back-to-School" plan before stepping back into the classroom. A plan tailored to my interests and needs as an educator; one that will the motivate me to get excited for the upcoming school year; and a plan catered to my learning styles. Here's what I've been working on...
For a few weeks now, I have spent at least ten minutes each day writing in my journal. Most of my writing has focused on what I have done this summer, details about the Uber riders I have driven around, and reflections about conversations I have had with friends, family, and colleagues. My favorite time to write is in the mornings before I have read anything paying close attention to my inner writer voice allowing her time to process on paper. As I do, I think about the types of writing I am doing and what types of writing I want to model for my students. Maybe I will come back to some of these ideas I have written down this summer; maybe I won't. A writing routine is easy for me to fall out of when I'm not in the classroom, or one I do not allow time for, and it is one I definitely need to re-establish to prepare me for the writing I will do with my students throughout the school year.
A new routine I adopted last summer is creating my Teacher Planning Notebook for the year. Don't get me wrong, I calendar out my year with deadlines for students, meeting and testing dates, and I type up my unit plans in Google Docs. But my Planning Notebook is something I need to feel more grounded and helps keep me present in meetings. I decorate the cover of it with stickers, motivational words and quotes, and pictures. I color-code my notes to get my creative juices flowing which helps me process my thinking.
This year, I decided to set it up more like my Writer's Notebook with numbered pages; a Table of Contents; new literacy strategies I want to implement; a list of websites/apps I want to share with my students and colleagues; possible essential questions for units; and a Thinking Map with local, state, and national professional development opportunities I plan on attending including: PD offered by the Arizona Department of Education, The Arizona English Teachers Association's Annual Conference, The National Writing Project's Annual Meeting, and The National Council of Teacher's of English Annual Convention to name a few. (This chart also helps me remember I need to complete travel requests and requisitions early on in the school year).
My Planning Notebook is a work in progress, and I add to it as the year progresses. I take it with me to every meeting and workshop I attend adding handwritten notes, questions, and ideas as they come to me "in the moment".
Completing A Book Study
While the ambitious side of me would like to read several "professional" books during the summer, the realist in me knows I will blow this off. Each summer, I set a goal of reading at least one book that will help me begin preparing for the upcoming school year. Last year, I ordered a set of Kelly Gallagher's most recent book In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom for my English Department colleagues and I. At the freshmen level the previous two years, we had completed book studies, and I wanted to be more inclusive with the entire department. I am looking forward to the conversations my English colleagues and I will have in the first weeks of the school year.
To hold myself accountable, I have been monitoring my progress on my Goodreads app and discussing the book with a colleague in my department who is also currently reading it. I have also composed a few Tweets about ideas the book is generating for me, which I am tracking in my Planning Notebook (see pic). In addition the reading and writing strategies Gallagher explains, I have also tracked the online resources he mentions, which I have listed on a Resources page in my Planning Notebook.
Completing a Book Study allows me to remain current in English Language Arts trends and research while also reminding me of my professional commitment to being a better educator for my students and colleagues. It is something I continue throughout the year by completing one per semester and inviting my colleagues to join me.
Reaching Out to My Mentors
Even though I am a "veteran teacher", I, too, need a little motivation when I am feeling "stuck". I have found having mentors outside of my school district helps me think about my practice and the scope of my reach in ways that sometimes my colleagues at my school site cannot. It helps when those mentors teach at the university level, own a consulting firm, and are professional writers themselves.
One of my mentors, Steve Peha, founder of Teaching That Makes Sense, and I had a phone call this morning that gave me some ideas about getting "unstuck". One of the first things he asked me was: How is your blog going? I confessed that I am averaging 1-2 posts each school year and how crappy I feel about it. His advice: post regularly. Seems simple enough, right? That is, until I have 180 students in front of me on August 3rd. So, I have set a goal of writing 1-2 posts per month. To hold myself accountable, I have reached out to a friend who regularly blogs and asked him if I can blog with him. The other advice Steve gave me: build yourself into your blog. Continue making your practice your own. All gentle reminders that I am a professional whose expertise is valued by other educators in the field.
The other mentor I reached out to is Dr. Jessica Early, Associate Professor of English at Arizona State University. I had the pleasure of working with her a few summers ago in the Central Arizona Writing Project's Summer Institute which is connected to the National Writing Project. I sent Dr. Early an email inquiring about the graduate program at ASU. And, while I have not made a decision about whether or not I am ready to pursuit a PhD, opening a dialogue about teaching at the university level has been informative and insightful.
How could I write a post about stepping back into the classroom without mentioning a little back-to-school shopping? This week, I found an incredible bookshelf at a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $20! It needed a little repair, but it's on wheels, is made of real wood and displays books in a way that students can actually see the covers. I cannot wait to figure out where it will look best!
I step back into the classroom for my seventeenth year of teaching. The longer I teach, the faster summers and school years seem to pass. And, while I have begun prepping and my brain is spinning, I know I need to indulge in the last days of summer by spending time with my niece and nephew, by sleeping in another day, and by taking a quick trip to the mountains for a hike. In less than two weeks, I will welcome approximately 180 faces into my classroom introducing myself with a handshake and a smile. I will mentor a new ASU intern. We will spend 180 magical, emotional, creative, inquisitive, crazy days together, and I will be ready.