by Tricia Ebner
As the promise of summer break looms before me, I begin to face that annual dilemma: how can I best balance professional development needs with my desire for more family and personal time in the summer? On the surface, this seems like a silly question. Summer is “my” time; this shouldn’t be a question, should it? The reality, though is during the school year, days are filled with all that goes into teaching. Days are filled with designing and implementing lessons, assessing student work, and reflecting on the work and planning next steps. This means much of the professional development I might need or want gets pushed to parts of the year that are less hectic, including summertime. Many of my colleagues like to spend a day or two meeting each summer to prepare for the next year. The result is that I often have to figure out how best to balance ten or more days of professional development, the usual list of appointments and chores best left for summertime, and the family’s plans for adventures. I know that time spent in professional development during the summer means the potential for working more effectively and efficiently during the school year. But how should a teacher best balance these sometimes-competing demands of summertime?
I’m not going to claim I’ve ever been 100% successful at this balancing act, even after 25 years of teaching. However, there are some strategies that help me make decisions about how best to spend my time.
- Prioritize: What is the most important work I can get done this summer? What will have the best payoff for my students and me in the coming school year? Additionally, I consider what doesn’t have to be done right now. What can wait? What isn’t really a high priority? Asking these questions and reflecting on them carefully is a good starting point. As part of this process, I also decide how much time I’m willing to devote to professional development, especially meetings and face-to-face collaboration, during the summer break. Setting priorities and boundaries–such as “no professional development meetings during these dates”–helps me keep a balance between the professional and personal in summertime.
- Passion: What work do I feel most strongly about? Where is my passion? If I’m fired up about something, then working on it in summertime isn’t something to dread or resent, but something that energizes and inspires me.
- Resourceful: A third area I consider is what work can I do efficiently and economically? Over the past couple of years, I’ve been focusing on increasing the strength of the lessons I teach and their alignment to our standards. In doing this work, I’ve turned to some of my favorite resources, like the Anthology Alignment Project and mini-assessments found on www.achievethecore.org or the units published on the www.engageny.org web sites.
Making a list of priorities, considering my passions, and using quality resources help me develop a solid “to-do” list that will allow me to tackle some professional learning and planning while still enjoying family time through the the summer. Having a plan for my summer professional learning, planning, and preparation for next year helps me keep a better balance. By doing this, I feel confident that when August arrives, my family and I will have made some wonderful memories, and I will be feeling refreshed, recharged, and ready for the upcoming school year.