Sunday, September 18, 2016

Summer Loving: My Summer Bucket List and Reflection

Summer is always wonderful. From the beaches to the mountains, to finally having a coffee table full of magazines instead of piles of student work, summer is a great time to re-charge, re-calibrate, and set some goals for the year ahead.

For me this summer was also very unusual, as I transitioned into a new role from inside my classroom to an Instructional Technology Facilitator (ITF) position for my school district. This was not planned, I hadn't been looking to leave the classroom but when our school's ITF was transferred to another department, I spoke with my principal about applying and he was very encouraging. With his support, I applied for the role, and after being offered the position, I had a really tough decision to make. While I had not expected to leave the classroom, I do love using, researching, finding and applying new technology. I naturally would share my tips and tricks with peer teachers to help make their lives easier and classrooms more interactive, and this role would help me be able to do that at an even larger scale. So with bittersweet goodbyes, I packed up my classroom, loaned out my library and resources to wonderful teachers I adore, and started in my new role as an ITF.

I knew it would be especially important to squeeze in every ounce of summer I could, since new school years are full of exciting, albeit time-consuming weeks! My new position also has a shorter summer (4 weeks) made this even more of an urgent priority. So here is my top list of what I wanted to do this summer, the education connections they inspired, and the things I hope to remind myself of come June 2017 :)

1. Travel

Whether in your state, country, or abroad, we learn so incredibly much as we travel. I took my first trip abroad this summer (it's taken a long time to save, yay airline miles!) to get to visit some of my boyfriend's family abroad. Between the history, architecture, culture, and libraries, my curious explorer-brain was on full alert. With every new spot, I learned and came away with even more questions! As an life-long learner, I was able to find interests I never even know I had.
This was the home library in a stunning Charlecote Park manor home in Stratford Upon Avon, England.

Edu Connect: How can we bring more experiential learning to our students? How, even with the limited resources educators may have, can we make learning experiences come alive, so students today don't have to wait until college or beyond to be immersed in other cultures, traditions, places? This has my brain going in all kinds of Virtual Reality and Virtual Field Trip directions.

2. Read 

Bet you never saw that one coming, did you? :) During the school year, I often get so immersed into school reading, whether YA or Professional reads, I forget to read just for me! I decided since my summer was now only 4 weeks in my new role, I'd only read my fun-for-me texts in that time.  As a result, this was my grid. I read more than I ever had before in a summer. Some were pre-planned, other recommendations I received as I went from shop to shop, some were digital and some were paperback - all of them were incredible! I read without care for lexile, appropriateness, subject, nothing mattered but my interest! And the result was a beautiful arrangement of literature, memoir, non-fiction, and fiction! It was awesome!

Edu Connect: Choice matters. I love reading nearly anything, but that being said, I think I reached a new state of reading flow with most of these. I had that giddiness to get to curl up with a book I hadn't felt in awhile. It was divine! We want our students, too, to feel that excitement. Students need to have ownership of choice to truly give meaning and purpose to their reading.

3. Try something to get out of your comfort zone (Preferably, with people you adore)! 

When visiting a friend in Boston, she'd asked if I wanted to go do yoga on one of the barrier islands nearby. I love yoga, I also love islands, however, the idea of being in a public park with a bunch of super-fit Bostonians doing yoga sort of scared me to no end. In the end, despite both of us being out of our comfort zones, it turned out great! It was super peaceful, and inspired me to maybe even put more effort into my exercise regimen which has seen better days. Our instructor was supportive, calm, and gave us multiple options for modifications so even us newbies could feel successful. While my entire visit with my friend was fabulous, it was one of those precious experiences that I'll probably remember forever.

Edu Connect: Collaborative Learning when entering a challenge is important. Just as much as differentiated learning is. Everyone will be at different paces - and that's OK. But it's always better when you have people you trust by your side, diving in with you!

4. Connect with People You Love

Let's be real, during the school year communication and time with friends and family can be hard to balance. Everyone works hard, but for teachers it's on hyper-speed for 10 months of the year. Friends who are closest know this and jokingly will tell you, "Don't worry, we'll just catch up over the holidays!" Terrible, but has a hint of truth to it.

A better work-life balance is on my list of goals for this year - but having the extra time in the summer certainly doesn't hurt! Plan long weekends and visit friends who are further away. Visit family and enjoy not having to think about grades or emails filling your inbox. Even make plans for well into the school year so they'll be on your calendar in advance - summer is great time to set the tone for an awesome year ahead!

Edu Connect: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy... or so the saying goes. Make sure that while in the midst of really intensive work, connections and relationships are still at the center, because that is, after all, what matters most.

5. Clean & Organize 
28.5 pounds. That is how much paper I recycled after going through all those binders you tell yourself "Someday I'll look through there and organize!" Realizing that I didn't need everything I was ever given, being able to take what I may use again and get rid of the rest - really helped me downsize my resources. My rules? If I could re-create this in under 5 minutes, not worth keeping. If I can digitize it or it has been digitized, not worth keeping. It's the best feeling to start the year moving into a new space with a lighter load! I also re-organized my google drive files, which helped me start the year on a good digital footprint!

Edu Connect: Students, also, need assistance to be able to do this. Guiding students through this process of being able to prioritize, file, organize, re-do their systems is important. Taking the time to do this at the beginning of the year will save lots of stress and confusion later on!

6. Do Nothing

I am a firm believer in disconnecting. I don't think there is a way to describe the pure end-of-school-year exhaustion that educators face. Or the back-to-school hyper-speed that will be waiting for you. While it's wonderful to have new experiences over the summer, make sure to do what makes your heart happy - and sometimes that may be to do nothing. Don't overschedule so much awesome that you're overwhelmed when you start back working. I believe on this weekend pictured, I ate waffles and Netflixed to my heart's content. And it was glorious.

Edu Connect: Let breaks be breaks. Teaching students to manage their time so this can be possible is vital. As is making sure all work assigned is purposeful in quality vs. quantity, which will help you, as well as students, have a chance to disconnect throughout the school year.

Whatever you do with your summer - know you deserve every second! Teachers have the hardest job there is, and disconnecting so we can later connect again is possibly the most important thing we can do! What are your favorite summer must-do items?

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