At the end of my exhausting and enlightening first year of teaching, I found out I needed to put together a brand new curriculum for the next year. Like many teachers, I had been assigned a new class.
Soon after, I discovered our school’s professional growth budget still had some leftover money in it. So I applied for what I like to call “the smoothie grant.”
I asked my school to pay for me to have a smoothie at my favorite beach coffee shop every day for one month. I promised to work on my new curriculum at that coffee shop daily as I drank my school-funded smoothie. Unorthodox? I’d have to admit that it was. But I got the “grant.” And I got so much work done that June.
Conferences are the most conventional summer professional development for teachers, and I’d be the first to say that conferences are great. But it’s not the only way to improve your skills. Check out these 10 unconventional ways to broaden your professional horizons this summer.
1. Start a Breakfast Club
One year I invited all the teachers at my school who were interested in a certain teaching strategy to have breakfast with me once a month and discuss it. I learned so much, and I think I helped my colleagues, too.
Is there something you’ve been wondering about? Grab some teacher friends and get together every other week this summer to broaden each other’s horizons. Maybe you’ll discuss project-based learning, online portfolios, creating interactive notebooks, or using podcasts in the classroom. Whatever it is, you’ll each bring your unique experiences and summer research to the table every time you get together, and you’re bound to grow as a result.
2. Go on a Trip
Attending a conference isn’t the only reason to go on a professional trip. Maybe you are teaching a unit on an artist whose work you’ve never seen in person, or a volcano you’d like to hike, or a battle that took place on a site just a short flight away. I once stayed in a forest cabin alone for a week, reading Thoreau and Emerson, hiking, and planning my transcendentalism unit. Sometimes a field trip is just the thing to engage a teacher as well as students.
3. Make a Date with Yourself
While your school might not fund your own version of my smoothie grant, perhaps it would be worth funding it from your own pocket. Where could you make a date with yourself throughout the summer to learn new teaching strategies or plug away at something you’d really like to accomplish? Maybe you want to watch a Ted Talk at your favorite sushi bar once a week, put a teacher podcast in your ears every weekend as you run the local trails, or revamp your A.P. curriculum from your cabin dock on Wednesday afternoons.
4. Embrace Fame
Spend some time this summer thinking about what you have learned in your career so far. What area have you really become an expert in? What have you and your students mastered together? Then look around for a conference where you could present or a publication for which you could write. Dive in. Teaching others how to teach will only improve your resume and your classroom skills.
5. Make an Offer
Along the same lines, consider creating a professional development session for your department or entire faculty in the coming year, and make an offer to your department chair or principal.
When I was teaching abroad in Bulgaria, I tried out some innovative technologies that many teachers at my school hadn’t discovered yet. I offered to coordinate a series of workshops for the faculty during one of our development days. In the end, I recruited a half dozen teachers to lead sessions explaining different forms of education technology. I opened the day with a group session, led a breakout on blogging, and helped everyone sign up for what they were interested in. I learned so much during the process.
6. Join a Social Media Platform with a Professional Focus
Do you know about all the education chats on Twitter? Or did you know that thousands of teachers are posting photos of their classrooms, projects, and resources on Instagram? There’s probably a Facebook group specifically for teachers in your discipline or special interest. Chances are you’re pretty social media savvy, but choosing a new (or new approach) to a platform can be great summer professional development for teachers to carry into the school year. You can start with the WeAreTeachers Instagram or Twitter @weareteachers.
7. Create a Goal-Oriented Pinterest Board
It’s always fun to get lost in the sea of Pinterest. So why not make it a professional development adventure? What’s one thing about your teaching or classroom that you’d like to improve? Create a goal-oriented Pinterest board and go on a scavenger hunt. Feel like your grammar unit is blasé? Your décor lacks spunk? Are your exams too predictable? Dive down the rabbit hole of Pinterest and figure out how to fix your problem. You’ll probably enjoy the process. If you’re looking for board ideas, this is a great place to start.
8. Ask a Question
During my first year of teaching, I asked everyone around me the same thing: “Who was your favorite teacher and why?” I asked my family, my friends, my colleagues, and my students. The responses fascinated me. What question could you bring up throughout the summer that might help guide your own teaching? Ask it over drinks, on a picnic, while out surfing with a friend. Getting a lot of perspectives will help guide you in new directions.
9. Take an Online Course
You might say this is not a very unconventional form of summer professional development for teachers. But I’m not just talking about a course in your discipline. Have you always wanted to make your own sourdough bread? Learn how to fix car engines? Code? Take a course in something OUTSIDE your discipline. You’ll enrich your own life and there’s a good chance it will end up flavoring your professional life too. You never know when you might want to bake bread for a colleague, help students rebuild a car, or mentor the robotics team. If you’re not sure where to get started, here are a few sites to try:
10. Get Lost at the Library
For part of my career I worked in the Los Angeles area, and I loved to hit the education section of the Los Angeles Public Library. Walking into the library was like entering a gorgeous museum, with murals on the walls, sunlight streaming in, and books as far as the eye could see. I checked out so many books about teaching, usually coming in with no particular list and going out with as many as I could carry. You never know what you might find when you begin surveying the accumulated wisdom of generations of brilliant teachers. And it won’t cost you a cent.
Summer professional development for teachers is a positive investment in your career and yourself. Enjoy the process, and your students will enjoy the results.