A teachers' guide to crushing the summer

Summer has landed. Let's get into what high-performing teachers do to crush the summer.

Follow their lead: 

image by Graham Cook via Creative Commons

image by Graham Cook via Creative Commons

  1. Rest
  2. Refresh
  3. Rejuvenate
  4. Plan for next year
  5. Rest up again before school starts

The biggest mistake teachers (myself included) make is to move planning to the top of the list. 

"...we’re designed to pulse. Our most basic survival need is to spend and renew energy. We’re hardwired to make waves— to be alert during the day and to sleep at night, but also to work at high intensity for limited periods of time and then rest and refuel." - Tony Schwartz in The Way We're Working Isn't Working (a favorite read of mine). 

Rest, and rest well, so that you can do the best planning of your life. That only comes when you are both mentally and physically restored. Take advantage of the wave of performance. After sustained rest comes the ability to reach a high level of excellence. 

Imagine a marathon runner deciding to wrap up a great race with another marathon! Don't be that person. 

Homework: leave a comment and tell us your favorite way to rest and rejuvenate in the summer. Do not get confused. This is critical work that great teachers do. 

Stay tuned for a summer series on how to use the summer to up your teaching game. This is going to be a fun summer.

Tech tip: Use freemium SumoMe to build traffic to your site

I started using the freemium (free for most stuff, paid for the high-end stuff) product SumoMe on this website a few weeks ago. I have already noticed increased traffic, increased social shares, and people signing up for my new e-mail newsletter that I am working on.

Examples: the share bar on the right and bottom of this page, the popup newsletter signup box. All powered by SumoMe, and I am only using the free tools.

It takes about 1 minute to install, so I have to say, quite the time-valuable website tool. You can give it a try here: http://sumome.com/

My takeaway: if I can connect with more teachers interested in improving their craft, I am on board!

If you have any questions about the tool, let me know, and I'll do my best to advise.

How to watch & learn from your peer teachers this week

image by: remixed by Darren Kuropatwa. Original image via WayneKLin. From TEDxNYED 2010, which I helped cofound.

image by: remixed by Darren Kuropatwa. Original image via WayneKLin. From TEDxNYED 2010, which I helped cofound.

I visit many classrooms at my school and other schools. I visit for formal observations, other times for drop-ins, or sometimes just as a guest. Each time, I leave with an idea for my own classroom. I expect that of myself.

To me, teaching is both an art and science. Methods and skills mixed with creative madness. When I am in someone else's classroom, I focus deeply on the science side - the methods they use to engage their class.

Some of the things I look out for:

  • how did they structure the lesson?
  • what are students doing?
  • how much is the teacher talking?
  • how to students demonstrate their understanding?
  • what pieces engage the students most?
  • what students are left out/seem not to understand?
  • what materials are the students using?

When I look out for these, I want to find the most powerful teaching moments and share them back with the teacher, so they can make sure to keep doing them and make more of them. 

Equally importantly, I also learn strategies for my own classes. I cannot tell you how much better a teacher my peers have made me by their example. 

If you want to be a great teacher, you need role models. Practice what they do. Make it your own, certainly, but great teachers are great for very, very good reasons. Do not overvalue the art in teaching. Know that it also requires very practical methods - methods that great teacher employ.

Your challenge: set up a visit to another teacher's class. Pick someone that you know is a strong teacher.

I will make it easy for you. Send them this e-mail:

subject: can I visit your class this week?

Dear [insert their name here],

I would love to come visit your class this (insert a few specific options of days/times here). 

I am trying to improve my classroom practice and feel like I could learn a lot about how you work with [insert grade number] graders by visiting you. 

I will stop by and see you later in case scheduling is just easier in person.

Thanks, in advance,
[insert your name]

Leave a comment if you are up for the challenge. I can't wait to hear from you.


Give your students half a sheet of paper, 10x your teaching quality

Did you ever have one of those classes where everything just went great? Your explanations were elegant and succinct. Students were volunteering left and right. Group work moved like a well-oiled machine? Those are the days I live for.

Sadly, those come along only once in a while. Often, I would feel good, but leave class somewhat unsure as to how a few students are doing. 

I love this simple method for avoiding that less-than-desirable feeling:

Hand each student a half-sheet of paper with the following questions on them:

1. Name (optional)

2. What is one idea from today's class that you feel like you really understood well?

3. What is one idea from today's class that you need more help with?

4. What is one question you would like me to explain next class?

Try it 5 full minutes before class ends. Student can leave after they complete this "exit ticket" and put it directly in your hand.

Try it every day, in every class, for one week. Let us know what happened in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this post, sign up for my great teacher newsletter today for more free goodies.

Teachers: how to stop using sarcasm and start building better relationships with students

Great teachers have outstanding relationships with their students. 

Never underestimate the value of these relationships. Whenever you approach a student, start with the heart. That phrase comes from one of my all-time-favorite books, Crucial Conversation, Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High (referral link). And make no mistake, stakes are always high when a teacher approaches a student.

Start with the heart refers to the idea that healthy dialog starts with good motives. Before you enter a conversation, take an intentional moment to ask yourself what you hope to get out of the conversation. When you approach the student, first identify your shared goals and then your intention:

Jay, both you and I want you to get the most you can out of this project, and want the process to be as easy as it can for you. I broke the project up into small pieces so that it is easy for you to complete each part. Yesterday, when you did not submit your outline, I began to worry about whether you would be able to keep up with the project. Can you help me understand what happened? How can I help you get this outline completed and submitted?

Note the difference between the above approach and a common misstep below:

Jay, where is your outline? You will lose 10 points per every day that it is late and I will not accept it after Friday. I also am e-mailing your mom so she is going to ask you about it tonight. I expect it on my desk tomorrow.

The latter example may occasionally get the outline turned in, but it never gets the relationship strengthened. You want both. Do not settle for less.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, do not use sarcasm. Not ever. Especially avoid sarcasm with anyone below high school, but even in high school, sarcasm is a terrible, yes terrible, communications method. The Crucial team identifies sarcasm as a form of violence, and the Greek root means to tear flesh. Sarcasm is, by definition, not genuine. Healthy relationships thrive from genuine communication. Do not get caught in this trap.

If you need a trick to work on your sarcasm, try wearing a rubber band around your wrist for about a week. Each time you see it, remember that you are trying to avoid sarcasm. When you are teaching, or in a meeting, and your hand flashes in front of your face as you gesture, let it remind you of trying to be more straightforward and clear with your students and peers.


Try this for one week. Give it your full effort. Come back and let us know how the experiment worked.

If you dug this post, I hope that you will share it broadly, and sign up for my new newsletter on becoming a great teacher leader.