Summer is a time to rest and recharge; after months of dedicating countless hours of personal time and mental energy to bettering our classrooms, we need to prioritize our own education. So often we spend the school year teaching content that we’ve taught many times before, or we neglect to pursue a new learning opportunity because we don’t have time. There are many formal ways to participate in professional learning during the summer — workshops, conferences, courses– but those can often be costly. Here are some fun ways that you can do PD over the summer and impact your practice come fall!
- Start a book club.
This is a really great way to explore a new topic in teaching, to learn more deeply about a concept in your content area, or to simply engage in conversation about reading. Last summer I read Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School by Starr Sackstein and I highly recommend it! You might already know a group of teachers ready to dive right in, but you may want to make new connections. If you are the outgoing type, you can use social media to find others who are interested in your topic of choice; maybe start by posting in a neighborhood message board on Facebook, or host a digital book club on Twitter. No matter who participates, you are sure to gain valuable perspective.
- Hit all the nearby museums.
You may have already visited all the major art or history museums in your area– if not, start there! But, what about the smaller, quirkier museums? Whether you live in a large metropolitan area or not, there are probably several niche museums within driving distance. If you live in the south, you can take a (day) trip to The Scottish Tartan Museum, Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens, or even The Delta Flight Museum. Even though you might stumble upon a seemingly random topic, it is amazing the connections you can make! You can use websites like Atlas Obscura or Tripadvisor to research the museums near you.
There are often an abundance of education related volunteer opportunities over the summer. You could volunteer to teach English to speakers of other languages and/or refugees, or volunteer with a youth organization. You could also find something to push you outside your comfort zone; you are bound to learn so much. Volunteering at a community garden could help you learn how to grow food while also learning to history and ethnography of a neighborhood. It will give you a great experience to discuss with your students.
- Road trip to an historical site.
Although traveling to Yellowstone National Park might seem like more of a vacation than a learning opportunity, consider what you can discover about the natural landscape or the history of U.S. national parks while visiting. A short road trip can be a great way to experience a change of scenery while learning something new. Whether it’s The White House, Mount Rushmore, or Alcatraz, pick something fun and unexpected and hit the road. There are many inexpensive options for accommodations, like camping or Airbnb.
- Binge-watch TED Talks.
This is a favorite activity of mine during the summer because I can multitask while listening to inspiring and thought-provoking TED Talks. Of course, relaxing and focusing just on watching is great, too– especially if you can find a park or scenic area to hang out. You can watch TED Talks anywhere (as long as you have wifi) and they don’t require a huge time commitment. There are plenty of TED Talk lists curated by subject, or you can build your own playlist. I’m currently making my way through the list “How Your Brain Constructs Reality.”
- Learn any new skill.
Being a learner is the best way to grow as a teacher, and that applies to learning anything. Find a new skill to learn, especially if it is something that you know will challenge you. I am not very coordinated or good with my hands, but last year I learned to knit. It took a lot of discipline and patience for me and reminded me of what it feels like to struggle with something that others often find simple or easy. Struggling to learn something new is a lesson in empathy that all teachers need.
- Write a book.
Oh sure, this one sounds easy and fun! Seriously, it is– as long as you are okay with writing whatever comes to mind. It may not be a masterpiece, but then again it may be! You can use Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) as a template; it takes place every November, but you can do your own version in July, a much more feasible time for teachers. There are many helpful resources online to help you set pen to paper; just set a daily word goal, set some time aside, and use writing prompts when needed. If you can manage to do it while sitting on the beach, you’re living the dream!
- Attend lectures at nearby colleges.
Even though it is summer break for colleges, too, you can still find free lectures and events to attend on campus. Colleges frequently host lectures or speeches from authors or experts in any field, but seldom do they advertise these appearances. If you are willing to do a little digging, you can find some interesting opportunities. Many colleges keep calendars online for speaker series, but you may have to go to the webpage for a specific department to find smaller events. I recommend doing some research at the beginning of summer and making a calendar or list so that you can pop in when you have some free time.