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Summer School Survival: Six Tips and Tricks   


The school year may be winding down, but every ending is just a new beginning. Believe it or not, it’s that time again. Very few phrases bring up quite so many feelings and associations as the words “summer school.” Many of us relish the opportunity to make some extra cash while bemoaning the need to work, while others of us truly enjoy the different feel of a summer school classroom. No matter what our thoughts might be about heading back into instruction in the sunny months of June, July and August, a few pointers will help make the experience more meaningful and enjoyable for all concerned.

Rethink Pacing           

I still remember the summer school P.E. class I took because my district presented it as an option for completing the requirement in a different way. The class was three weeks long, went eight hours per day, and we moved through each unit at a breakneck pace. Typically, summer school courses try to cram several months’ worth of content into a few weeks. When the session ends, do kids have the knowledge we wanted them to leave with, or is it more about checking off a box? If the latter, we might rethink how we want to pace our classes. Instead of teaching for coverage so that we get through a list of curriculum “to-do” items, we it may be wiser to focus on one or two really big learning outcomes that are far more non-negotiable and useful in the long run than simply going through a lot of course goals quickly and without the necessary depth they require.

Get Experimental           

Sometimes, we just need a change of routine to inspire us. Summer school is a great time to test out an idea that we’ve been playing with. Suppose we want to try flipping our classrooms; why not see how it goes in the altered time frame of summer? Or, what if we want to experiment with project-based learning? In the more relaxed environment of summer school along with often smaller class sizes, we have a little more leeway to try new instructional strategies and let them both inform our future teaching and enhance our overall practice. That way, we can use the time as an opportunity for growth. Who knows? We might come away with something really incredible that can be replicated in the longer school year.

Talk to Colleagues

Getting by with a little help from our friends takes on a whole new meaning when we teach in the summertime. What would summer school be like without the support of colleagues? When we are required to make instruction more compact, talking through the process and brainstorming ideas that will help students be successful is of paramount importance. Plus, we might be able to help cover for one another, or even be creative with combining our classes on certain days and working with a larger group to accomplish a task or learning target. When we go to our own summer school orientations, it helps to keep an eye out for teachers who are working with a similar group of students and try to touch base with them about collaborative planning or thought partnership. The more we work together, the less we have to reinvent wheels that already exist!

Chill Out           

Now is not the time to add more stress to the equation. After all, haven’t we all just survived an incredibly stressful school year? Scheduling time in class to take a deep breath can help everyone maintain focus during both activities and assessments. One great way to recharge is to give students silent reading time or individual work time. During this segment of class, we can make ourselves available to provide assistance, but students also need to be given the opportunity to process class content on their own. Another option is to take a few minutes at the start of each class for mindfulness, whether that involves intentional breathing exercises or taking a few minutes to think about a provided question or topic. Furthermore, it can help to play calming music before class or during quieter times to set a more chilled-out vibe. With more hours of instruction packed into each summer school day, not all the time should be active; everyone needs the chance to relax.

Go Outside           

Nothing beats a gentle breeze and a shady spot under a tree on a warm summer day. Heading into the great outdoors is not only good for our mental health; it is also a lovely change of pace for students (ahem, and teachers) who have been cooped up for the past year and a half. Looking for ideas to bridge instruction to the outside world? Here is a list of ideas for connecting instruction to outdoor activities. Having class outside every day isn’t feasible, but making it happen more frequently than we would during the school year is a good idea, particularly while we are still navigating how new Covid variants might affect unvaccinated children.

Get Silly           

When is the last time any of us unleashed our silly sides? We all need to have fun, especially after a tough year when all anyone wants is a break. Bringing games into the classroom is almost always a good idea. Instead of using online gamification sites that have been so helpful this past year, some old-fashioned playtime away from the screen might be a better bet. For example, Charades is usually a great way to release some tension, or improv games like “Park Bench” are popular. We can also align any silliness to what we teach and have races to solve problems or write sentences. However we choose to loosen up, doing it away from laptops will also help us build face-to-face relationships with kids after a tough year.           

Maybe summer school is not a first choice for how we spend the break between school years, but we can make the best of it and even have some fun in the process. Whether it becomes a valuable experience for students is up to us. If summer school is an unavoidable reality, accept the challenges it presents and try to have a positive mindset with being back in school. That way, we can find little ways to recharge each day, even while being amid the grind of teaching in these hot summer months.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam is a Learning and Achievement Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has worked for nearly 20 years as an English teacher, staff developer and department chair. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and recently earned her certification in Education Administration and Supervision. She can be followed on Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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