Elevate Your Personal & Professional
Learning with Our Five Fantastic Tips
We know you’re wondering about it, so we’ll let you in on our secret...Yes, we had to use a thesaurus to make the alliteration work for the title of this post. To eschew means to avoid at all costs. And look—you’ve learned something new already! Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of the summer slide—the dreaded “learning loss” that occurs in students during the months spent out of school—but what about the teachers? Will your brain cells soon be shriveling up and rotting away as well? Most likely, your personal answer would be, “No, my brain is recovering from the incredible stress of a pandemic school year quite nicely, thank you very much!” The word “loss,” after all, has such a negative connotation. Implying that teachers’ summer is pure “vacation” and can be chalked up as a loss is a serious accusation and implies that teachers aren’t reflecting, learning, planning, and improving as experts all the while.
The same could (and should) be said about students! To call the time spent in summer a loss for them not only completely ignores the hard work schools and families do in tandem to support students’ continued learning, but also glosses over the new skills they acquire, the adventures they undertake, and the social-emotional well-being that a respite and time spent with friends and family can afford. Dr. Peter Gray, the unofficial inspiration of the annual Global School Play Day points out the paradox of our misguided thinking around unstructured play:
Perhaps play would be more respected if we called it something like ‘self-motivated practice of life skills,’ but that would remove the lightheartedness from it and thereby reduce its effectiveness. So we are stuck with the paradox. We must accept play’s triviality in order to realize its profundity. -Peter Gray, Free to Learn
Do you hear that? Profound things can happen when adults step back and let kids be kids. And who knows what profound things could happen if everyone gets out of teachers’ ways and lets them be kids too? So please, let us take a moment to vehemently disagree with these misguided assertions being bandied about by uninformed politicians and honor all the work that took place this year, and the work that will undoubtedly take place this summer for educators and students alike. Professional learning is no longer an event that happens to you; it's a continuous process that happens with you, and we hope you find our own tips for continuing your personal process below helpful to you on your playful summer journey.
Tip 1: Unplug...and Don’t Feel Guilty!
The number one most important thing to do in the summer—especially THIS summer given all we’ve had to endure—is to take some time to disconnect and unplug. Permit yourself to take time to sit at a beach or around a pool, get together with friends and family, watch movies, be active, get outdoors, stop checking your email...do whatever you love to do to turn your mind off of “school mode.” But the number one rule of this is…DON’T FEEL GUILTY! You have earned your time off, and now more than ever, we need to recharge our batteries before the next year sneaks up on us (and we all know that will be here before we know it.) When you’ve fully recharged your batteries, you may move on to the next tip. Seriously, don’t read any further until you’re ready!
Tip 2: Sign Up for Clubhouse...Right Now!
If you’re an educator, chances are good that you know the importance of collaborating with colleagues. When it comes to planning high-quality learning experiences for students, two brains are better than one, no question. But are you ready to kick it up a notch? Recently, we’ve become hooked on what we’re calling the next generation of professional learning: Clubhouse. The best way to describe it to friends we’re trying to get to drink the Clubhouse Kool-Aid is to think of it as a podcast with which you can participate, professional networking like LinkedIn with audio, a Zoom meeting without cameras turned on, or a TED Talk with live audience interaction.
The discussions we’ve been a part of so far have been able to go beyond the limitations of edu-Twitter and generate even deeper conversations and more productive connections. With only 280 characters to work with, Twitter threads around complex ideas can often fizzle out due to the lag time between one comment and the next and the all-important details can easily get lost. Clubhouse allows users to connect, question, and clarify so that your point can come across clearly. If Twitter Chats are a thumb-straining flash in the pan, Clubhouse conversations are like a vocal bonfire that will keep you going all through the night. And when reading a professional book feels like a chore rather than an energizing endeavor, listening to some great educational talk can be just the ticket.
Tip 3: Find a New Personal Passion
To end the school year, we try to do a passion project with students in the hopes of it continuing on and sustaining them into the summer. Passion projects are a great way to learn something new in a fun and creative way. This keeps our brains working and can help our physical and mental health. What new activity could you and your family start doing that would be fun for everyone? Or maybe you’ll choose to take on a solo project or activity that helps give you some personal time, like hiking, mountain biking, or bird watching.
In addition to giving you the chance to expand your own personal horizons, finding a new personal passion can help you in the classroom, too! When you are enthusiastic about learning something new, you suddenly have a whole bunch of ways in which to connect with your own students. Starting a new sport? We guarantee you’ll be able to connect with more of your students. Beginning to bake? You’ll find connections with the kids who have a similar hobby. The more you know about yourself and what makes you happy, the more of you there is to bring into your classroom. And the more you bring into the classroom and share with your students, the better your classroom culture will be—one of open and trusting relationships where students feel comfortable sharing more about themselves as well.
Tip 4: Bring On The Beach Reads
One of our favorite ways to spend time in the summer is loading up on lots and lots of “pleasure reads.” Put away the workbooks, textbooks, and grade books, and fill your Amazon cart with books that you'll actually enjoy. Similar to taking on a new passion, familiarizing yourself with some new titles can help you connect those books to the students you’ll be facing in the fall.
What’s on our to-read List? We’re so glad you asked! The graphic novel Cardboard Kingdom #2: Roar of the Beast by Chad Sell just dropped and arrived the other day, along with Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds, Ibram Kendi, and Sonja Cherry-Paul. I (Grayson) plan on doing lots of audio book-listening as my family and I take car trips around the state during our summer. A stop by our local library is always a must-do on our road trip preparation list, and I always try to double-dip the books so that they’ll be both appealing to my own kids, and also give me a chance to preview some books to put into the hands of students in my next class. One more that I’m super excited to dive into is Ground Zero by Alan Gratz. My class loved reading his novel Refugee this year, and even got to meet him and ask him questions during a virtual field trip, and I’m hoping for a similar experience with his newest book about the events of September 11th.
Tip 5: Practice Passive Learning: The Educator’s Equivalent of a Pre-Game Warm-Up
Professional athletes don’t show up cold to their first practice or game of the year, they start training beforehand and getting into shape for the upcoming season. As educators, we can do the same by starting to do some light “passive learning” a few weeks before the school year starts. As opposed to “active learning,” when you might be taking online courses or college classes, attending Edcamps or conferences, or being summoned back to school for professional learning sessions, passive learning means you can do it on your own time, in your own way. Reading an educational book or listening to some podcasts just to get your mind thinking in that way again can help in a big way. We’re not saying to go into your classroom from 9-5 weeks before school starts (please don’t)! Instead, it’s about easing back into the education mindset during those 5-9 hours instead.
So what will we be tuning in to? Grab those headphones! For starters, we’ve been listening to a lot of great podcasts related to education. Some of our favorites include The Wired Educator by Kelly Croy, Teachers on Fire by Tim Cavey, Let’s K12 Better by Amber Coleman-Mortley (check out her awesome blog as well), and The Cult of Pedagogy podcast by Jennifer Gonzalez. And of course, we’ll be gladly talking about our new book, The Expert Effect, to anyone willing to listen.
The Covid-19 pandemic exhausted educators and forced us (time and time again) to pivot our school systems on an almost minute-by-minute basis due to lockdowns, quarantines, and reluctant reopenings. It was a year in which teachers and students alike felt the weight of balancing time and energy between the “Roomies and the Zoomies.” It exhausted parents who suddenly had to navigate crisis-teaching, childcare, and critical careers. And, perhaps most importantly, it exhausted students who lost their bearings as the rhythms of school were thrown into chaos.
We wish we had the silver bullet that would solve all these problems and provide a panacea, putting schools back on track towards (and improving on) what was once considered “normal.” As a profession, we are some of the most reflective practitioners, looking inward and returning out to consider how to best move others and ourselves forward. We hope you’ll enjoy your well-deserved summer and continue on your own journey of personal and professional learning, without one iota of concern over the concept of “loss.”
About the Authors
Grayson is a 5th-Grade Teacher in Michigan, an innovative educator who uses new pedagogies to deepen learning, enhance creativity, and create opportunities for students that would not be possible without taking a few risks.
Zach is a passionate 4th-Grade teacher in Michigan, a frequent blogger and conference presenter. Zach was named 2019 Elementary Teacher of the Year for Troy School District and Oakland County.
Zach and Grayson’s book, The Expert Effect, will expound upon a three-part system of how to get students to:
Learn from experts outside the classroom,
Become experts through project-based learning, and
Teach like experts to an authentic audience.