Beginning Teacher Interstate Connections: Restore, Reflect, Do Something for You

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

The 20/21 school year is coming to a close, and it has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While this year came with more than its fair share of challenges, the victories far outweigh the challenges; and they will allow us to move forward to better meet the needs of both teachers and students. As we work to end this school year on a high note, it is so important we take time to reflect on our experiences. This reflection will allow us to recharge before the start of the 21/22 school year. 

This school year, the fluctuation in classroom schedules and content delivery allowed us to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones to do anything and everything to meet the needs of our students. Imani Cooper, 2021 NCCAT North Carolina Beginning Teacher of the Year Finalist, reflected on the positives she experienced while teaching for Weldon City Schools, “The biggest positive take away from this school year was the ability to build endurance as an educator. I’ve been stretched in ways I never would’ve imagined over the course of this year from developing creative lessons for a virtual classroom setting, to building relationships with my students while virtual, to going from virtual to hybrid in the middle of the semester. Ending this school year successfully gives me hope that I can overcome any challenges I may have in my future, personally or professionally.” As Imani so wonderfully points out, the skills learned this year that pushed us creatively will be great jumping-off points for the next school year and even this summer as we work with students to strengthen their mastery of key concepts in each content area. 

Reflecting now on this school year, while it is still fresh in your mind, will help as you begin to prepare for the year to come. As educators, we constantly find ourselves thinking about what is to come and how best to prepare ourselves for the next group of students we will have in our classrooms. The summer is a great time to look back on what worked in previous years and make necessary adjustments to be even more intentional in our planning, more impactful in our instruction, and more diligent in our assessments. For Imani Cooper, the summer offers time to consider how, “the challenges of this year…have given me ideas for ways to be even more creative in the classroom, school, and community in the upcoming year. I have reflected on challenges such as student engagement and teacher burnout, and will be even more intentional about finding strategies to limit these.” If you want to prepare for the 21/22 school year consider the following:

  1. Plan new layouts for your classroom
    1. Whole group/small group settings
    2. Station rotations
  2. Revisit lesson plans that will be retaught
    1. Ice breakers
    2. Direct instruction/small group instruction
    3. Clean up your Google Classroom/Canvas
  3. Set goals for summer growth
    1. Read an article a week
    2. Join a book study
      1. 2 Books for Every Teacher’s Summer Reading List
      2. 8 Books for Teachers to Read this Summer
    3. Attend a professional development session
    4. Explore a strategy or tech tool that you never got around to using this year

For more great ideas, check out: 

All teachers are well aware that there is always a need for professional growth; and yes, the summer is one of the best times for professional learning. However, one of the key items all teachers will find while reflecting is that they wish they had more time for self-care during the school year. It can be difficult to set up routines for self-care amidst the hustle of the school year and that is why it is so important to not only grow professionally during the summer but to take care of oneself while enjoying downtime away from the school building.

Do Something for YOU!

As important as it is to reflect and possibly think about next year, it’s equally and maybe more important to spend time focusing on yourself. Because most educators have a servant’s heart they tend to put their work, family, and other responsibilities ahead of themselves. This can lead to self-destruction and a less than wonderful version of your true self!  As you begin your summer we have a few suggestions that will play a part in you taking care of your mental and physical self both now and when the new school year begins. 

  • Take time off from school and emails. Set aside time, which can be a day or hours each day, to unplug from work in every way. This will allow you to spend time with your family, get other needs taken care of, or time to do something for yourself.

Next, I highly suggest setting a personal goal. Creating a goal for yourself will give you something to work toward and be proud of when complete.  Ideas:

  1. Personal fitness goal. Ex: Walk 30 miles in June, Join a gym and go 3x a week.
  2. Pick up a new hobby. Ex: painting, refinishing furniture, bike riding, surfing, reading for pleasure, making holiday cards, etc.
  3. Learn to make a new craft. Ex: Earrings, crotchet, painting with watercolor, macrame, etc.

A break from work allows time to spend with friends and colleagues. Spending time with those in your circle who are uplifting, encouraging, and generally happy will encourage those same emotions in you. Meet for coffee, a pool date, dinner, or something you both like. Connecting with those we work with, in a non-work-related environment, can make the time at work so much more enjoyable.

Ultimately,  it’s important you make this summer memorable. It might be that you look back and simply say, “I was able to rest and recuperate.” It’s imperative, with the work you do as an educator, you’re at your best. Being physically and emotionally healthy makes that more feasible. 

Your mental health matters! Take the time to rest, breathe, pray, meditate, binge a tv program, or whatever you need! You are worth it! You deserve it! 

    Have a GREAT summer! See you in August!  

           Contributors: Bradley Sasser, ECU, & Sandy Corbett, ECU

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