Before I even attempt to write this post, I want to be 1000% clear that I don't believe any teacher anywhere needs to work on schoolwork or preparations during the summer. However, I know that at some point in the middle of summer break, many teachers get an itch to start working on their classrooms for the upcoming year! Further, many teachers simply don't get enough prep time before school starts, which means they have to start thinking about school well before their contract hours begin.
I've always been one of those people who has a steady stream of school projects going on all summer long, and over the years, I've wasted a lot of that time working on things that don't matter. I have an extensive blog post about what you need to prep for the first day of school and what you can leave behind, but it's been over five years since I wrote that original post, and I have even more to add.
2020 Disclaimer: I've had this post in drafts for a few years and was finally able to finish it up. While this school year may look a lot different than a typical year, this list doesn't include any distance-learning specific must-dos.
Here's my list of summer to-dos that actually make a difference come day one and my list of don't-dos that can wait!
What You Should Do During Summer
Organize Reading & Math Block:
I am a huge proponent of setting these expectations from day one, which means diving in right away! That means on the first day of school, I do have my students start a very modified version of math workshop since that's what our everyday routine will look like. For that reason, I advise teachers that they should have some idea of what their reading and math blocks will look like for the rest of the year.
This also gives you time to prepare some of your resources. I'm working on a blog post about math workshop specifics, but here is a quick overview and how it impacts my summer planning. I typically have three rotations on any given day. One is always Meet with Teacher. The others will vary between Task Cards, Independent Work, Math Games, Fact Practice.
Ways to Prepare for Math and Reading Workshop:
- Prepare labels for each of the rotations or decide how you will display the different activities students will be doing. I print and laminate titles of each rotation and then put student names on magnets so they are easy to move around and group for different units.
- I prepare a TON of task cards over the summer. A ton. I use them in both my Task Card and Math/Reading Games station, and I have a set for just about every topic. I love the feeling of having them all printed, laminated (if you laminate) and ready to go before the school year even starts. HERE is a blog post about how I organize my task cards.
- Gather Games. For me, this means I am looking for games at Goodwill, really great deals on mini travel games over the summer, and also preparing content-specific games. I also use these for indoor recess!
- I gather and prepare materials for several ideas for fact practice over the summer, and I always seem to change this up. HERE is one of my favorite math fact practice games that you can prep over the summer.
Decide on some basic routines and think through as many scenarios as you can so that you are prepared with answers for them. I have a list of routines and procedures in my First Week of Schools plans that are free HERE.
Design your Best Plan Book:
Decide how you are going to plan out your weeks. I'd caution you to REALLY look into any plan books you are thinking of investing in. I feel like I've had them all and, well, I rarely use anything other than the weekly/daily plan sheets within them. While I loved my fancy bound planners, I always revert back to a very basic, full page (or two page) daily plan that I hole punch and place into a binder. Find what works for you!
While you don't need to have a complete plan (see below re: implementing too much), you should have some basics ready to go. I guarantee you that some parents will ask about the homework right away! HERE are my thoughts on homework.
Get to know your teammates:
Seriously! Get to know them outside of school, meet for lunch, plan together, etc. Especially if you are new to your school or to teaching, get to know as many people as you can. Some of these people will very likely become an extension of your family. Find your marigold and hold them tight!
Organize Your Library and Build a Book Collection:
I was at Goodwill every week when I was still building a classroom library (don't forget to look for games while you are there, too)! You can also reach out to friends and neighbors. I have found that people are more than willing to give away children's books to teachers! Make sure you have a library full of different, diverse characters and settings (see @diversereads on Instagram for a good definition of “diverse” and so many wonderful suggestions), a variety of levels (both picture books and chapter books are a must), and include books that challenge your students' perspectives. Decide how you are going to organize your library. I did mine by topic, and never by level.
Morning Meeting Outline:
I start Morning Meeting on DAY ONE, and I've always been more successful if I am prepped from the beginning. First, I'd recommend reading the official Morning Meeting Book (affiliate link). Then, I'd start compiling a huge list of greetings, activities, and books that you'd like to incorporate over the year. That way you aren't scrambling every morning to prepare for your meeting. I always made greeting and activity cards, laminated them, and put them on a ring so that I could just flip to one and be ready to go!
Plan your first week:
This is a BIG one! The first week of school is huge, and it was always the week I spent the most time planning. I finally figured out my “ideal” first week of school. I shared those detailed plans for free HERE.
Pacing Guides/Scope and Sequence:
Your school or district will likely already have this planned out for you, but it is really crucial that you have a master plan of what your year is going to look like and become intimately familiar with it. There is so much (SO MUCH) to fit into every school year, and you can easily get off track. You also need to be ready to pivot. Teaching long division is probably going to take you infinitely longer than you are prepared for. Identify places in your calendar that you can wiggle a little bit and know when diversions are likely coming.
What Can Wait
Unless you thrive on the pretty and truly enjoy doing this, resist the urge to emulate your favorite Instagram classroom. Instead, look at small spaces within your favorite inspiration rooms and choose one or two bring those into your classroom. If you take one thing away from this, let it be this: Your students will not learn better if you have a perfectly decorated classroom.
I am a huge, huge advocate of creating anchor charts WITH your students while you are learning about certain concepts. Unless required by your school, you really need very few reference materials hanging on your walls at the start of the school year. That being said, I do recommend you have a designated space for anchor charts, reference materials, and student projects for each subject you teach. Just leave them blank! 🙂
Do not stress about the perfect seating arrangements. They will change quickly and likely frequently over the school year! If you are considering Flexible Seating, you can read my posts about that HERE. Design a simple seating system that will work for the first week or so and then reevaluate.
Implementing too much:
One of the biggest mistakes I see new teachers make is being overly ambitious about how much they are going to implement their first year. Make a list of all of the things you'd love to implement into your classroom (classroom management, academic routines, homework requirements, traditions, etc.) and prioritize them. In my experience, it's easier to add things throughout the year than it is to drop something you've already started. What would you add to either of these lists? I know my to-do list is always seven miles long before the school year starts!