The Calm in all this Sweltering Heat: My Professional Summer Goals

About a month ago, my son shared with me that the air conditioning in our car was not properly functioning.  Being that it was mid-May, I paid it no mind.  “Just roll down the windows.  I’ll deal with it after my school year has finished,” I told him.  He didn’t argue too much with that response because it wasn’t super hot in New Hampshire in May.  Well, for those of you not familiar with the weather in New England, allow me to educate you on the subject.  On any day in New England, it could snow, rain, sleet, and get very warm, all within 24 hours.  The old adage about our weather is so true: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.  And change it did, very quickly as May transformed into June.  On a warm day in early June, I went to put gas in the car.  Even with the windows rolled down, I was sweating from parts of my body that I did not know could produce sweat.  By the time I returned home, I felt like I had just traversed a great mountain in a rainforest.  I was moist and stinky, like my teenage son before he started realizing the benefits of using deodorant.  It was horrible.  The next day, I scheduled an appointment to get the air conditioner in our car fixed.  If only I had listened to my son and addressed this issue earlier, I wouldn’t have had to feel like the Swamp Monster of Concord when I gassed up the car that day.  Hindsight and reflection are crucial to learning from our mistakes and being able to move forward in a productive manner.  I just wish that Miss Hindsight wasn’t so adamant about teaching us valuable lessons in the most uncomfortable manner.

As I sit, properly masked up, and patiently waiting for my car’s air conditioning to be fixed, I can’t help but be excited for my cold ride back home.  No more sweat-filled trips for my family.  Yea!  I also realized that this is as good a time as any to start thinking ahead.  As my school year officially wrapped up this week with our Closing Faculty Meetings, I’m feeling pumped and ready for summer vacation to begin.  While I won’t be heading out on any trips to the beach or other overcrowded places in which people don’t seem to understand the importance of social distancing and the use of face masks to keep themselves and others safe and healthy, I am planning to stay plenty busy honing my craft as an educator.  I love summer vacation because it’s a good, long chunk of time in which I can read new professional development texts, research new teaching practices, or just tweak some unit plans or activities.

Like every other summer, I have created a lengthy list of goals or things I’d like to accomplish.  So, here is my list of summer goals for 2020…  Drum roll please…  In no particular order, here they are:

  • I want to read the summer reading book that my school’s collective faculty chose, Teaching Students to Become Self-Determined Learners by Michael Wehmeyer and Yong Zhao.  As I’ve read other books by Mr. Zhao and loved them, I am super excited to dig into this new text.  After reading only the first chapter, I am hooked.  The authors talk about the importance of student agency as they share the story of how a small group of bored but motivated students created their own school within a school that they aptly called the Independent Project.  How cool is that?  I can’t wait to learn more about how I can inspire my students to truly own their learning.
  • I want to choose a new read-aloud book to begin the new school year in Reader’s Workshop.  While I’ve used the novel Wishtree by Katherine Applegate for the past two years and have been pleased with how it ties our community unit together, I’m looking for something different, more controversial.  I’m looking to push my students outside of their zone of comfort a bit.  With all of the scary and sad headlines that have been plastered across newspapers and online news publications in the recent weeks and months, I can’t help but see a teachable moment.  Race in our country has been and will continue to be a very hot and contentious topic, but unfortunately, not one that is often debated or discussed in schools.  Most teachers worry that they may say the wrong thing or create more tension by shedding light on the subject, and so lots of schools have only gently glossed over the topic.  I want to confront it head on.  While the area in which my school is located does have some racial diversity, the majority of students at my school are Caucasian.  So, why not empower my students with knowledge and start a debate on race issues in my fifth grade class?  The two books that I’m looking to use as the catalyst for our discussion are Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson.  I’ve started reading Ghost Boys and am totally loving the alternating chapters between life and death.
  • I want to create a new Social Studies unit to kick off the new school year.  While I’ve loved the community unit I’ve taught for a few years, the feedback I’ve received from my students is mixed.  They like Social Studies, but they don’t super like diving into a deep unit on the town in which our school is located.  So, I’ve decided to branch out a bit.  Although I’m still going to keep the central theme of the unit on community, I’m going to briefly introduce the students to the town in which our school is located before getting them to think about our entire country.  I’m going to have the students plan a cross-country trip using Google Maps.  I want students to be able to choose where they would want to go if they could go on a trip across our great nation.  While they will have a set budget and requirements, the places they choose to visit will be in the hands of the students.  I am confident that this type of student-choice, Project Based Learning unit will engage the students and allow me to cover lots of skills including note taking, source documentation, and how to complete an effective online search.  I can’t wait to see where the students will want to travel.
  • I want to complete the online training regarding the Modern Classrooms Project.  They provide free, online training for educators looking to create a more student-centered approach to teaching.  It aligns nicely with the ideas covered in the summer reading text I’ll be working on.  I’m excited to learn even more about how I can best engage my students while fostering a love of learning in my classroom.
  • I want to play with the Edison Robots my school purchased for me to use in Science class.  I want to learn how to code and program the robots so that I will be able to effectively instruct my students on how to use them.  I want to have the students use the robots as part of our unit on Astronomy, as they create space rovers to accomplish a self-chosen task.  I’m looking forward to learning more about computer coding this summer, as I play with and explore these very cool robots.
  • I want to create a Professional Learning Community of other fifth grade teachers working in independent schools in the greater Concord area.  I want to reach out to these other teachers and hopefully create some sort of meaningful virtual or in-person learning community in which we can share ideas and knowledge regarding teaching and fifth graders.

While this does seem like a lofty list for a short summer vacation, I do believe that it is doable.  I am positive that I will be able to accomplish all of the goals I have set for myself this summer in a meaningful and relevant way.  As my car will soon be shooting out cold air, so too will I be shooting out lots of knowledge regarding all of the awesome things I’ll be learning this summer.  While I’m not sure that the analogy really works here, it sounds cool and so I’m sticking with it.

So, now I pass the baton onto you.  What are your plans for the summer?  How will you grow as a teacher and/or person?

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