Teaching Profession Opinion

Now We Know What Summer Can Be: Next-Generation Summer

By Contributing Blogger — August 06, 2015 10 min read
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This post is by Ross Lipstein, Director of Summer of Summit, Summit Public Schools.

Ten weeks ago, our Chief Academic Officer Adam Carter posted a blog for Learning Deeply about the plans being laid by Summit Public Schools for a different take on summer for over 1,200 middle and high school students in the Bay Area. We developed the five-week Summer of Summit program to deliver on three big opportunities:

Traditional Summer

(what summer has often been)

Next Gen Summer

(what we know summer can be)


  • Most students experience a summer slide of two months of grade level equivalency in math skills, and low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, widening the achievement gap

  • When students do attend school, it is often a joyless ‘summer school’ of remediation and adult-chosen coursework

  • Students engage in learning over the summer with a wide variety of courses focused on Summit’s Four Elements of College Readiness: Cognitive Skills, Content Knowledge, Habits of Success, and Real-life Experiences

  • Summer learning is for everyone: students choose a blend of courses to catch up and/or surge ahead, and they direct their learning because college and life will be self-directed


  • Summer professional development consists mainly of seminars and lectures focused on theory

  • New teachers prepare for their first year of teaching largely by sitting in classrooms, as students of seminars and workshops

  • Summer PD is authentic, job-embedded performance: teaching students, being observed, and receiving feedback and coaching

  • New teachers prepare for their first year by teaching in classrooms from Day 1

  • As their students do, teachers direct their own learning, because:
    a) most teachers must be self-directed during the school year to develop;
    b) it better prepares them to support their students’ self-directed habits and skills

Coaches and school leaders:

  • Teachers with a desire to take on greater responsibilities in coaching or becoming school leaders don’t have the opportunity to start this work during the summer

  • These same teachers, who want to grow, can only do so during the school year when they also have a full course load

  • Teachers who want to grow in their coaching or leadership skills are able to do so, focusing full-time on that role with support from their own coaches as they go

Others had identified these opportunities as well. Teach for America-Bay Area is both the nation’s largest source of new teachers and its largest operator of summer professional development for teachers. Summit and TFA-Bay Area began crafting a groundbreaking partnership nearly a year ago to bring this vision for next generation student and teacher summer learning to life.

That partnership precipitated Adam’s post two and a half months ago, and today we want to take a moment to share what we learned after an extraordinary five weeks of Summer of Summit, and consider where next generation summer learning might be headed.

Let’s start with some stats.

  • Summer of Summit provided 1,200 Summit students across 5 Summit schools in the Bay Area the opportunity for summer learning and enrichment
  • Summer of Summit was led by, and developed, 177 teachers, with 112 of them new TFA-Bay Area Corps members and 65 Summit faculty.
  • Those teachers were observed and coached by 28 instructional coaches, which included a mix of experienced Summit teachers and TFA instructional experts.
  • 1-2 incoming or aspiring school leaders led each school site serving as Summer Fellows

All of these moving pieces contributed to create a dynamic five weeks of summer! We’ve aimed to catalog below a few of our biggest lessons so far as we begin reflecting on the program.


Students can stay engaged over the summer in a meaningful and self-directed way. With over half of Summit students attending Summer of Summit, there was never any doubt that there was interest in a summer program. Students were able to choose from among 40 courses to personalize their schedules, promoting significant self-direction of their learning and high levels of engagement in the summer itself. Through a weekly survey, 85 percent of students told us that they felt confident and excited about their education and engaged, and that number increased as the summer wore on. One rising 11th grader summed it up well: “I think we’re very lucky to have a summer [program] to help us catch up, get ahead and pursue our career goals. Thanks for giving us this opportunity this summer!”

Enrichment and remediation can coexist in a summer program. Students took five courses each week, spanning deeper learning projects, career-focused and creative Expeditions, Habits of Success seminars, and content-focused Personalized Learning Time. With courses ranging from Science Experiments to Photography, and Computer Science to Personal Finance, there really was something for everyone. Students leveraged the afternoon’s Personalized Learning Time to catch up on additional content knowledge, or push their learning ahead - directing their learning to be exactly where they want to be this fall and beyond.

Of course, we also found elements of the summer program that can be refined and improved in future Summers of Summit. One major thing we’ve learned is just how difficult it can be to ensure continuity of coursework and student-teacher relationships in just four weeks of half-day classes (the first week of Summer of Summit was educators only). Going forward, rather than giving students choice of over 40 courses, we will hone the offerings to include the courses that demonstrated highest student engagement and learning, allowing us to better balance choice with continuity and cohesion for students and teachers.


The emphasis on authentic performance, observation, feedback, and coaching was extremely powerful. Perhaps the most striking outcome of the summer was just how popular and effective we found the authentic performance orientation to educator professional development to be. Observation paired with 1:1 coaching was by far the PD experience that teachers found most valuable, with nearly 75 percent of teachers giving it the highest possible rating of helpfulness, and four times as many votes for coaching/observation as the most useful PD experienced as compared to the next highest-rated options. Said one new teacher, “my discussion with [my coach] was really helpful because I got direct feedback on my teaching performance, concrete ideas for improving some of my procedures, and resources for further development. This type of direct, concrete, and actionable feedback is extremely helpful for me and I would love more of it.”

Being thoughtful about how people learn best--whether students or teachers--helped teachers self-direct their growth and better understand their students’ perspectives. One way we know that individuals learn best is through skills-based learning. For students, this means Summit crafts most of its curriculum around helping students develop in the 36 most important cognitive skills needed for college readiness. For teachers, this means we crafted the summer to help new teachers improve along five core educator skills, each with specific sub-skills and “look-fors” that guide teachers’ self-directed goal-setting and coaches’ observations and feedback. Self-directedness extends beyond skills-based goal-setting to include how teachers use their PD time when they are not in front of students. They had the option to work through student data, develop and prepare lesson plans for upcoming classes, observe another teacher’s class, work with their coaches, attend opt-in workshops on specific skills, work through educator playlists, reflect on their own progress, and reset goals. They chose which of these to do based on their own learning goals and needs, just as they will in their own schools this fall and beyond, and just as Summit students do every day in their classrooms.

As with students, teacher self-direction entailed a learning curve. In the first two weeks of the program, we found wide variety in how teachers used self-directing learning time, with some more proactive in setting goals and working toward them than others. We see this in our students as well, and we refined the summer through a similar approach we use in classrooms: we added some additional scaffolding so that coaches and site leaders could help teachers develop the habits and skills to more productively direct their own learning. In particular, we added office hours where teachers and school leaders could come for resources to help drive their self-directed learning. We also became much clearer in the “how” and “why” of self-directed learning for teachers so they were able to refocus their efforts toward the highest-yield activities for their own learning and growth. Going forward we’ll certainly work to provide greater clarity from the outset. We saw strong growth in the value teachers placed on their self-directed PD, as their average rating of its value jumped 10 percent (above some traditional PD activities) once we provided more clarity in Week 3.

The experience with self-directed learning highlights an additional lesson we took away from the summer, which is that working with a partner organization was a powerful way to help us both become tighter and clearer about various aspects of our learning and teaching models. Sometimes we as an organization can get overly familiar with terms like “self-directed learning time” and take it for granted that that concept will translate easily to a new teacher or student. Having committed partners in TFA-Bay Area who brought expertise without the Summit jargon helped encourage us to get really clear on what self-directed learning entailed and how to help students and teachers understand why it was important and how to go about it. Similarly, Summit brought expertise without the TFA jargon, which helped prompt TFA-Bay Area to be sharper in integrating elements like workshops and teacher collaboration.


Experienced teachers relished the opportunity to practice coaching and site leadership outside of the normal school year, and learned a lot in doing so. As the summer progressed, we saw countless examples of coaches and site leaders facing situations they would be unlikely to face during school-year PD. Coaches balanced a workload of several new teachers, spending much of their mornings observing classes for specific evidence of the goals, skills, and “look-fors” they discussed with their coachees each afternoon. One coach said, “This is exactly what I want to use my PD time this summer to do. It’s rewarding, impactful, and I’m learning a lot. Although I do miss being in front of students!” Similarly, Summer Fellows faced a variety of authentic leadership challenges from scheduling to parent engagement, and student discipline to operational logistics. One Summer Fellow who is transitioning from teaching to school leadership this fall said the summer was an invaluable way to prepare for a full year of such challenges. Another added, “I learned so much more than I could have any other way.”

Professional development at all three tiers (teacher, coach, site leader) at times meant allowing opportunities for growth. A key to self-directed learning, we believe, is giving the learner the opportunity to try their best hypothesis and learn from failure. That value, of course, is secondary to creating an exceptional learning environment for students. When that top value is met, though, Summer of Summit left room for site leaders and coaches to step into their roles and responsibilities, and we saw them step up to that challenge in an extraordinary way, with competence from Day 1 growing into excellence as the summer progressed.

In conclusion, after a busy and exciting five weeks of Summer of Summit, we are largely where we hoped to be--there is a lot to celebrate, a lot of potential being realized, and a lot we can improve on going forward to deliver on even more of that potential. At Summit, we think of expeditionary learning as learning that is perspective changing, authentic, and valuable. We believe this summer not only provided expeditionary learning opportunities for students; it was also a model of an expeditionary learning experience for educators and school leaders. We hope even more students, teachers, and aspiring leaders will join us as we go forward, so that we look back at a movement that made the Next Generation Summer the new normal for what can be.

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