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Monday, July 25, 2016

Strategize for the School Year Ahead

Once the school year starts, there's hardly a moment to breathe. The pace of school life, particularly at the early-childhood and elementary levels, is marked by significant time-on-task with large numbers of children and tremendous responsibility for coaching, leading, and responding to students', families', and system-wide needs, expectations, questions, and requirements.

Summer gives you the time to strategize for the year ahead, and as you strategize it's good to think about the new and existing initiatives, opportunities, and expectations that exist. In the best of circumstances, I think it serves educators well to stay ahead of these new efforts and endeavors so that you don't have to back track, do it over, or repeat work. Plus to plan with the future in mind means that you're ready for this new work.

To break down this strategizing, I recommend the following actions:

Read and Watch System-Wide News
I've started watching our system-wide school board meetings to stay on top of what's expected and what's to come. It helps me to be aware of what the community and administration are talking about so that I can reflect that in my questions and teaching efforts. Similarly I read the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education update each week. That too keeps me in the loop of what to expect. I visit our Union website regularly too in order to read the details and find out more about initiatives, opportunities, and efforts I have questions about. It's good to make knowledge routines like this a regular part of the teaching/learning routine you do or that you share with colleagues.

Evaluation System Requirements
It's good to be well aware of the expectations of your evaluation system. In Massachusetts we have thirty-three elements of effective teaching and learning that we're responsible for. I've outlined those elements in the TeachFocus website, and there's a simpler, more general outline in the Reflect for Success website--an outline that can provide an effective teaching reflection practice for teachers in any state.

I suggest choosing your student and professional learning goals during the summer when you have ample time to think about who you are and where you want grow as an educator. I outline my goals and efforts on an ePortfolio that I publicly share as a model for others. I don't think it's necessary to publicly share your ePortfolio, however, a published ePortfolio can serve you well as you submit proposals to present or attain grants if interested.

Curriculum Map
The summer is also a good time to sit down with colleagues to create a loose-tight map of the teaching year to come. It's important that the map is "loose-tight" so that it leaves room to respond to the students' needs and interests as well as new goals and expectations set by system and state administrators. The leisure of a summer day lends itself to good thought and collaboration in this regard. This is an example of our team's curriculum map draft--a draft we'll likely update in the weeks to come before school starts.

Schedule and Routine
Similar to the curriculum map, it's important that teaching teams take a close look at schedules and routines and use time as effectively as possible to teach well. The use of time is paramount in schools, and making the time upfront to create a schedule that maximizes teaching/learning time is worth it when it comes to teaching every child well. In most school systems, the schedule is published in advance of the school year leaving time for educators to do this valuable work.

Field Studies and Special Events
Working with your team to identify field studies and special events during the summer means that you have the time to call and schedule those events. Typically classroom teachers have little to no time to make phone calls during school days, hence it's advantageous to schedule special events during the summer months.

School Calendar
Our system has turned to Google calendar for scheduling and that's almost always terrific. We can quickly look up a date to see if it is open for scheduling an event. Similarly we can list our events so that family members and others know what's going on and when. Looking over the calendar and adding important events during summer months is also advantageous since you have the time to do this.

Professional Learning Plans and Forms
Most systems will provide some funding for professional learning, but this requires filling out forms. Summer is a good time to catch up on those forms (I have to do this!). It's also a good time to research and plan for professional learning events to come. Typically if you get your requests in early you may be able to attend an event at no cost since your system will support the event. For events you have to pay for, it's good to look around and see what's available. There's often many low cost or free professional learning events available that are worthwhile. Events like local Union conferences, edcamps, ECET2s, and museum/nature preserve events are often free of cost and sometimes result in additional credits for a low cost too. Spending some time searching the web and talking to friends and colleagues about these opportunities over the summer helps you to chart your professional path well.

Long Term Plans
It's important to have a professional long term view. If you only move from one event to the next, it's unlikely that your professional path will be as meaningful as you'd like it to be. Yet, that being said, some people do move serendipitously from one event to another and exceed all expectations. So there's no one way. However, I believe that a well thought out, long term plan, one that you're willing to revise as you go along as needed, is advantageous.

Summer gives you a chance to think about the big picture. Where do you want to be in a year, five years, ten years? What do you want to do? Who can you contact to help you on your journey and what learning/living experiences will help you travel that road?

The Teaching/Learning Environment
The way you set up your teaching/learning physical environment matters too. As schools transform many of us are finding ourselves in outdated environments with new ideas for teaching and learning. This leads to the need to transform our environments as best we can with painting, signage, carpets, good furniture, and storage vehicles. Depending on what and whom you teach this can be a small job or a very big one. Nevertheless, it's important to make some summer time to create a space that's conducive to the learning/teaching goals you aspire too.

Fun, Family, and Friends
The best teachers enjoy life. We all know them. They have rich personal lives, many interests, and a love of working with children to teach and learn well. If you're all work and no play, you're going to be a dull teacher. It's imperative that we have lives outside of the day-to-day work we do. For some of us that's more challenging than others, but wherever you fall, it's an important consideration.

There are many ways to strategize for the school year ahead. This time to think, plan, read, research, play, and wonder is essential to the good work we can do with and for students. The key is to set aside the time to work alone and with others to strategize for a successful year ahead. How will you do that?