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3 Ways to “Summer-ize” Your School Year

Teachers: who are you during summer break?

In many ways, I’m the best version of myself. I’m still a teacher, but I’m a wife, daughter, sister, and friend, too.  I’m a relationship builder. I’m a traveler. I’m someone who prioritizes physical needs like sleep and exercise, as well as cognitive needs like reading, discourse, reflection and goal setting.

I’m always a teacher and a learner, but from August to June the teacher identity tends to take over and suffocate my summer self.

And I don’t think I’m alone. Many of the masterful teachers I know have “two selves,” – a school year, teacher with a capital “T” identity, and a summer identity. During certain parts of the year these two identities work together and complement each other. And at other times, they compete for attention in our schedule.

Looking around the library at our first staff meeting this week I could see teachers in their natural state – their summer selves were on display. Eyes were bright, skin was tanned and toned, smiles were wide and plentiful. Conversation was light, lively and filled with hope.

Sometime around mid-September, maybe earlier or later depending on the school culture, the shininess starts to wear off. The physical and emotional signs of summer begin to disappear.

So, I’m trying something different this year. If I’m a better version of myself in the summer, I must work to bring more of my “summer self” into the school year. My three “new school year resolutions” include:

·      Scheduling A Personal Planning Period: Just as teachers need time to prepare for lessons and evaluate student work, we need this time in our personal lives, too. I’m going to pretend my treadmill and trail dates are a staff meeting; a commitment to myself I’m expected to keep. I don’t want to wait until my next break to break a sweat. After all, that’s where some of my best lesson planning happens.

·      Relationships, Inside & Outside the Classroom: It’s important to get to know our students and colleagues as people outside of the school culture. This year I’m looping with my students, so I will already know most of them as learners on day one. But who are they when they’re not at school? To find out and dig deeper, I’m scheduling home visits to learn more about my students’ families and neighborhoods.  The same is true for our colleagues. Happy hours can be as important as the work that happens during our PLC’s. I’m part of a book club (half teachers, half teachers’ spouses) that meets every six weeks to discuss a different book. The books vary in genre but are always “pleasure reads” not “professional reads,” and a great meal and lighthearted conversation culminate each reading experience. Connecting with other practitioners as people outside of my teacher persona keeps me an energized and enthusiastic reader – just the model I want to be for the reluctant readers in my classroom.

·      Unplug & Lights Out: Most of us work in schools where we can’t snooze the first bell or alter the school day schedule in major ways. But we can shut down our computers, walk away from electronic reminders, and turn the lights out at whatever hour we need to be our best the following day. I’m a better, more patient and attentive teacher when I’m not burned out and exhausted. The thing I love about the first days of school is that everything is fresh. After a break that includes rest and time away from our classrooms, we return ready to do things better.

What if we saw each school day as a clean whiteboard? Share your own ideas about how we can “summer-ize” the school year and stay fresh, well-rested, and well-rounded human beings. Or, add your “new school year resolutions” to this discussion thread. When we take care of ourselves we are also taking care of the students we serve and the colleagues who need us to be at our collaborative best.



Valerie Free commented on August 5, 2013 at 9:46am:

Well said

I totally agree.   I feel that my personal life always gets lost when I restart.   My husband always can tell and reminds me that I'm becoming that teacher.  He also reminds me that I'm his wife and the mom of our child.  I love it all but wish it can be balanced.  The only way it does is when I put forth an effort.   It's hard but well worth it.  


Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 5, 2013 at 9:57am:

A Balancing Act

Thanks, Valerie.  I recently posted a status update on Facebook celebrating when I squeezed in a workout on my first day back to school (for professional development) this year.  I was celebrating a "work/life balance," and she questioned why it wasn't a "life/work balance," a small, but important nuance that really struck home for me.  I agree, it is hard work (but totally worth it) -- and having those people in our life that remind us when they see our "summer selves" completely slipping away is key to keeping us on track :).

Bob commented on August 5, 2013 at 1:29pm:

Physical Education


excellent article , we don't go back until 19th August in Scotland , but I intend to look closely and follow your guidance , so true!



Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 5, 2013 at 7:23pm:


Enjoy and live up every moment until the 19th! Thanks for the comment and let me know how "summer-izing" your school year goes once you start!

Marsha Ratzel commented on August 5, 2013 at 3:50pm:

So do we hold each other accountable?

Dear Jessie,

I think this is a valuable question and thread.  I give and give and give until I'm run dry.  And then someone expects me to give more because "it's for the kids."  Unfortunatley I don't think that will matter if I'm so unhealthy that I have diabetes because I'm overweight or have a heart attack because I don't eat right or exercise.

It's not surprising that most districts' health care costs are sky high and the biggest things they spend the $$$ on antidepressants, diabetes medicine and blood pressure medicine.  At least in my district they are always talking about this....and yet the pressure cooker tactics still are used.

So I'm with you....I'm going to try very hard to work only the hours that I get paid to work. (and we all know that I'll be lucky if I can make myself stay to working an extra hour or two each day)   If I could do that, I'd be able to have the balance that I think my body needs.  And if stuff doesn't get done, it doesn't get done.

I think I'd be more patient and have a better sense of humor....and so that's my summerizing goal.

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 5, 2013 at 9:24pm:

Thanks for sharing!


Thanks so much for reading and sharing your "summer-izing" goal!  I think the health costs would be a fascinating research study nationwide...we've heard the research about teacher burnout and turnover in the profession (especially during those first few years) but we don't talk enough about the long-term effects of teachers who stay in the profession for the long haul (and give and give and give) each year!  I do think accountability partners would help us get better at this - (and redesigning schools around flexible scheduling/expanded learning opportunities and hybrid roles would be great systems solutions as long as we're thinking big picture!)

My patience and sense-of-humor definitely wither when exhaustion sets in -- and those are two traits I'd really like to model and practice daily with kids (and with all of the other wonderful people in my life outside of school).

Kathy Peaseley commented on August 5, 2013 at 3:53pm:

Fifth grade

I'd like to know how this works for you. It has been my plan for many years to keep the summer self during the school year, but time does not allow this to happen. My husband says that I am Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Too true.

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 5, 2013 at 9:28pm:


I'm guilty of this as well and the people in my personal life tend to pay the price (especially if I bottle stress up and mask it from others at school). I think these 'resolutions' are going to be challenging to follow (especially the personal planning period) but I'm going to give it a shot and would love for other teachers to test it out to see...are we actually better teachers when we go to bed earlier (or otherwise take care of ourselves before prioritizing the stack of grading or parent phone calls or lesson plans or...)? :)

Bill Ivey commented on August 5, 2013 at 5:46pm:


I live in New England, and I'm pretty sure I have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). December through February in particular are generally pretty iffy at best, and I know winter is a down time for many people, even in warmer, sunnier climates. So I wonder to what extent that's a factor, too, in the "summer self" vs. "school-year self" dichotomy, at least for some of us. For me, besides sleep and exercise, vitamin D can help a bit, and I keep thinking about light therapy as well.

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 5, 2013 at 9:37pm:

Seasonal Moods....


Great point and one I hadn't considered -- summer (even for our colleagues in Seattle :) = more sunshine (and time outdoors soaking in that wonderful Vitamin D) which is in and of itself a mood boost. This makes me think about the physical environment of our schools which vary widely depending on the location, age of the facility, architectural design, etc. How many teachers and students (even in the 21st century) teach and learn in windowless classrooms?  

It definitely darkens (literally and figuratively) my mood to arrive before dawn and get home after sunset during the winter. This begs some questions about school calendars and designing them for optimal learning vs. traditional agrarian purposes. Thanks for adding another layer in the mix between our summer vs. school year selves.

Maura commented on August 5, 2013 at 10:40pm:

Balancing Act

Thank you for the "summerizing" idea.  I am going to try it as well.  I set a deadline of 5 o'clock the latest and no work taken home last year - it didn't last.  My husband tells people that once school starts, I am unavailable.  Sad but true.  What wonderful people our spouses are/have to be.  SAD - I have a room with a window for the first time this year.  I feel the difference just setting the room up.  Looking forward to when school starts to see if it helps the summer attitude to last. 

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 7, 2013 at 1:13am:

A room with a view!

Enjoy your window and view and I encourage you to adopt the "5 'o clock" contract again...this time, see if you can make it to Winter Break! :)

Margaret Bobb commented on August 6, 2013 at 12:28am:

Music and humor

Before I read your blog, I'd been thinking the same exact thoughts.  My summer has been filled with travel and baseball ( son plays in a collegiate summer league).  In these experiences I've encountered/experienced the joy of humor and music and thought, "Why don't I intentionally incorporate those elements into my teaching?!"  I think, because I teach high school science, I become very focused on "data and interpretation" and instilling important skills and concepts.  But as a veteran teacher, I know darn well that the affect of the classroom environment is the essential soil in which the learning will germinate.  Enjoyment and happiness are the essential nutrients for the intellectual seeds to grow.  At every summer baseball game I've attended in the Northwood's League, music and entertainment between innings buoy the spirits of the crowd....especially those not intrinsically interested in baseball!  I've been thinking, "Why not approach my teaching the same way?"  So my summer resolution is to use music and humor "in between innings", so to speak, in my classroom.  I hope to hook those not intrisically interested in science and be more my summer baseball-fan self.  Oh yeah, and exercise regularly, too.

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 7, 2013 at 1:19am:

Take me out to the ballgame!

Love it (and I'm sure your students will, too!) Would love to hear more about how you plan to go about incorporating more music and humor "in between innings."  I love it when rigorous learning is also really joyful - for all of the learners in the room.  I was recently part of a Common Core virtual professional learning and some of the participants/moderators brought up the book "The Laughing Classroom." I haven't had a chance to get it and read it yet, but your comments reminded me that laughter and humor are indeed valuable things to measure and monitor (and foster on a daily basis!) in our classrooms. 

Marie commented on August 6, 2013 at 3:32am:

Be Your Own Boss

I have tried to retain the positive 'summer self' as well, and promised to remember that school isn't my whole life, and then failed sometime in September and wake up to realize it's Thanksgiving week and my brain is fried, again!

But last year was a real breakthrough. Three things I changed in my routine.

1.  I've worked to find qualitiy books, manuals, activities, ect. Now I just have to trust them. Last year, I kept the pace slower, my routine more enforced; no last minute embellishments, added improvements or additional research. I was overworking everything and it was making me frantic.

2. Next I made myself take one day a month off to just regroup. Nobody cares if you are a martyr and you have to have a clear mind and open heart to teach successfully. That means you need to detach occasionally and feed your own spirit.

3. I left within a half hour of my students. I had never been able to do this before, but by simplifying my curriculum and using my time during the day to complete things that I used to stay after to do, correcting papers with the students instead of for them, and skipping a lunchtime a week to do the homework packets; I was able to turn out the lights early. I consciously planned to go home on time every day, and lo and behold, I did. I found out that it didn't make any difference to my daily instruction. It was a real eye opener as I had spent so many late nights getting set up for the next day.

Last year my family noticed a new me, I enjoyed teaching again,  my kids did fantastic, making great progress in reading and math, and best of all, I even returned to  work on a hobby I had totally ignored for years. It is possible to not get lost in teaching but you have to set your own boundaries, keep a clear vision, and replenish your own energy.



Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 7, 2013 at 1:27am:


Thanks for sharing your three keys for success!  A few questions in order of your suggestions -- would love to hear you elaborate on some of your successes!

1. Any specific resources you'd recommend for others seeking this balance?  What were the signs you were "overworking" an idea?  I think we often do this (and with good reason, we're reflective growth-oriented practitioners!) and I'm wondering if there are some 'signs' that should tip us off that we need to stop, drop and implement, and how we might know when our lesson or ideas are "overworked." 

2. Did you take a student contact day off?  If so, what was the reaction from others (inside and outside of school) and how did you prepare for this day off to really make the most of it?

3. Love this one!  Thanks for reminding us that we can leave the building at a reasonable hour...and still maintain a focus on learning and accleration for our students.  Just leaving the space within 30 minutes of the school buses pulling away likely made you a more creative and reflective teacher because you created the time and space to do this thinking! :)

Thanks again for giving us an insider's view of what "summer-izing school" looks like for you!

Karen commented on August 9, 2013 at 9:18pm:


This is so true!  I have always been good about sticking to a workout routine, even during the school year.  What I pledge is to get better sleep (7+ hours per night for my best health), spend more time with my spouse, and get together with a friend at least once per month.  During the school year, my time gets really wrapped up because I'm also finishing a doctorate degree. School and work are not the most important things in my life.  Family & friends are KEY to a happy life!

I'm going to do it! Thanks for the inspiration!

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 10, 2013 at 11:51am:

Sounds like a plan!

7+ hours of sleep and time for friends and family sounds like a great way to help manage the life/work balance. So many teachers are also students themselves like you - pursuing graduate degrees and additional certification to improve and hone their craft. Teaching and learning can be a time and a half (or more) gig -- all the more reason we must remember to take care of ourselves amidst all of the learning! :)

Angela commented on August 13, 2013 at 8:51am:

Keep on Cooking!

Each summer I endeavor to improve with each batch of homemade biscuits. Check. Earlier in the year, I was given an Amish Friendship Bread starter, and have been baking bread every 10 days, giving some away, setting a loaf aside for my family to devour, and freezing a loaf whenever there's any left. Check. And because I haven't been able to sleep in past 6:15 a.m. M-F due to being the good wife and fixing my husband's breakfast and lunch, which he loves (check), I have come to a conclusion. Keep on Cooking, but do it smarter.

During the summer, I can start on dinner around 3 p.m. and have my husband's plate on the table at 4:30 when he gets home, sit down and eat with him, and kiss him as he walks out the door to his part-time job. Health conscious as I am, I don't want him waiting until 8:45 p.m. when he returns from this job to eat a heavy meal, then lie down an hour later. I also know that when I get home from school between 3:15 and 4:00 any normal day, I am going to have to rush to prepare a decent meal (which I will have already planned out, thawing any meat ahead of time). So, here's the plan.

On the weekend, when I am more likely to resemble my summer self, I will cook in bulk. That requires some prior planning and creativity, but it will also alleviate extreme stress during the week. I will continue to bake Amish Friendship Bread, but try to do that closer to the weekend. And about those biscuits, well, we'll see. I will have to save those for days when I have nothing to do after school (no meetings, no soccer games or practices to retrieve my son from, no Wednesday night church meeting). But, I'm confident that as long as I keep replacing the buttermilk in my fridge, there will always be homemade biscuits.

Jessica Cuthbertson Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 14, 2013 at 8:35pm:

Kiss the Cook!

I'm a big-time foodie (but I loathe the prep and cooking, I just enjoy the eating ;), however, I love your thoughtful plan for incorporating cooking into your school schedule.  As a child, my mother always provided a lovingly prepared homemade supper, and I think the preparation, actual sharing of a meal and clean-up is a great way to slow down, spend time with others, and 'summer-ize' the school year.  Best of luck on keeping your homemade biscuits fresh, hot and more delicious than the last batch all year long! (And what a great metaphor for guided practice and learning - that with practice we get better and better! :)

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