Teaching Opinion

Summertime: Relax, Enjoy, and Catch Up on Teaching and Learning Advice

Research, guidance, and reflections on how educators are spending the summer
By Mary Hendrie — July 17, 2023 4 min read
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Last summer, after 28 years as a teacher, Violet T. Adams took on a new challenge: summer school. In her essay “Summer School Reminded Me Why I Love Teaching,” the Georgia public school teacher and self-professed “sun worshiper” documents what kept her indoors during her favorite time of year.

The personal and professional fulfillment she found from teaching over the summer is far from the only benefit of robust summer enrichment, experts say.

“The research is clear: Well-designed summer and after-school experiences enrich and expand education offered in schools,” former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and his longtime education counselor Terry K. Peterson wrote in a recent Opinion essay. In “4 Ways to Make Summer and After-School Learning Effective,” they dig into that research for actionable takeaways and examples of success.

A few months earlier, Boston After School & Beyond President Chris Smith and former Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville drew on their own summer learning experiences and research to offer a similar call to action in “Effective Summer Learning: ‘We Already Know How to Do This.’

Another potential benefit of summer learning programs? Giving educators an opportunity to test out new approaches to persistent challenges like family engagement. That’s what then-doctoral candidate Beth Holland argued in a 2017 account of her research into a summer parent communication intervention: “The smaller student body, brief duration, and flexibilities in mandates regarding summer school give educators an opportunity to figure out the logistics of implementing a parent communication program, work out kinks, and develop standards and protocols in preparation for launching it on a larger scale and longer-term.”

And it’s not just summer school educators working out new approaches for the coming school year. Peter DeWitt had some tips on bringing those goals into fruition come fall. In a still-relevant 2017 essay, he lays out a problem he has seen up close in his years first as a teacher then a principal and later as a leadership coach: the grand plans hatched over the summer that don’t survive the winter.

School leaders drafting plans in isolation—away from teachers, parents, and students—are particularly prone to this problem, he warns: “Unfortunately, they are at risk of becoming the fast-moving train that teachers are supposed to run next to and jump on, as opposed to everyone meeting at the station to gain momentum together.”

The solution? He’s got three.

DeWitt is not alone in thinking ahead to making summer plans a September reality. In last year’s “Schools Just Let Out, But What Are the Best Ways to Begin the Coming Year?,” Larry Ferlazzo rounds up 12 tips for starting the next school year strong.

For 4th grade English/language arts teacher Domonique Dickson, those preparations offer an opportunity to reclaim the joy in teaching. “The assessments, the district changes, and the school protocols aren’t in my control; my joy and excitement in preparing my classroom is,” she wrote in a widely circulated Opinion essay last summer.

If you’re also using some much-needed vacation to catch up on television, we’ve got some Opinion writing for that, too.

Patrick Harris II recommends the ABC sitcom “Abbott Elementary” as both a bright spot in his day and a sneaky professional development tool. In his Opinion essay from December, the middle school dean of students and English teacher tallies up three powerful (and spoiler-free!) lessons he found in between the laughs.

Also a fan of the fictional elementary school? Phelton Moss at the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, who admits to approaching the hit sitcom with some skepticism in his essay last year. “I saw nothing comical about broadcasting the all-too-common challenges faced by an underserved, under resourced, and underperforming elementary school as humorous—especially one with Black teachers and leaders,” he recounts. However, the show’s layered representation of how Black teachers can tap into culturally relevant pedagogy quickly won him over.

It’s not just fictional teachers who are inspiring their real-life counterparts; fictional football coaches have been getting in the game, too. In last month’s Opinion essay “What ‘Ted Lasso’ Can Teach Us About School Sports,” high school physics teacher and cross-country coach Liz MacLauchlan excavated some timely lessons from the Apple TV feel-good comedy series.

Of course, the summer isn’t a vacation for everyone in schools, as EdWeek Staff Writer Elizabeth Heubeck recently reported in “Summer Jobs Have Become an (Unwelcome) Tradition for Many Teachers.” In fact, 15 percent of public school teachers work a summer job outside the school system—a number that doesn’t include those who take on summer school responsibilities or less traditional side hustles like Airbnb hosting.

How are you spending the summer? Consider writing an Opinion essay of your own.

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