How do you intend to keep in touch with your staff over the summer break?
Traditionally, summertime has been “hands-off,” with little communication between the final bell and the schedule of events for the start of the new school year.
We’ve been amazed by how many educators want to be engaged over the summer, not because they don’t enjoy (and, in many cases, need) the time off, but because they want to grow as professionals and feel as if they have a voice in how the district can improve in the coming school year. It is that kind of commitment to ongoing development and collaboration that can help your district reach new heights in the years to come.
Yes, your teachers and support staff deserve a break, but many of them will relish the opportunity to use that time to become better at what they do. Here are some ideas to help your staff grow without infringing too much on summer.
1) Increase your social media presence
We have promoted social media as an impactful platform for district leaders, but little has been made of social as a medium to reach out to educational teams and aid in professional development efforts. While many district accounts are used to trumpet successes to the public or get the word out in the case of an emergency, there is even more that can be done.
Take Twitter for example. One of the biggest trends right now is that of educators getting together on a regular basis under hashtags related to the general state of education (#edchat), specific roles (#libchat – librarians, #cpchat – principals), or even specific instructional approaches (#sbgchat – standards-based grading, #pblchat – project-based learning). There is often a moderated topic at regularly scheduled times during the week, but these conversations continue around the clock as educators everywhere expand their digital learning networks.
There’s no reason why your district can’t also organize Twitter chats around your own initiatives. Get creative by sharing experiences your team is having over the summer, or any other topic you would like your team thinking about between semesters. For those who have not yet cracked the social media barrier, you can make the transcripts of these sessions available via email or incorporate them into a brief PD video.
Facebook is another option. If your teachers are doing anything related to their craft over break, share their pictures and videos on the district’s page. For example, an English teacher might be visiting England to trace the steps of Shakespeare. That’s a perfect way to inspire the rest of the English teachers in the district to deepen their understanding.
One of the most popular networks for school staff is Pinterest. Your team will probably be doing plenty of “pinning” over the summer. If you haven’t already done so, consider starting a district board and inviting staff to share all the great instructional tips and tricks they pick up along the way. From elementary art projects to high school science experiments and classroom setups, a little support can go a long way toward keeping your staff engaged, ultimately resulting in a better experience for your students.
2) Organize an Edcamp
Edcamps are flexible, user-generated conferences that can happen anywhere around the country. There are no keynote speakers or vendor booths. The topic for discussion isn’t generated until the day of the conference.
The goal of these “unconferences” is to facilitate a way for educators to share ideas without a barrier to entry. Some even occur via videoconferencing. Although teachers would be more than happy for the district to send them to one of the big education conferences that are happening over the summer, it’s probably not in your budget to send everyone. This might be a good alternative way to support continuous improvement.
Edcamps can draw educators from surrounding communities, infusing your district with diverse opinions and best practices that your staff might not otherwise be exposed to. Despite their unstructured nature, the discussions and networking that take place at unconferences can have a lasting, positive impact on your schools.
The majority of your educators, counselors, and support teams probably had altruistic motives for getting into education. That desire to make the world a better place doesn’t go away over the summer.
The benefits of organizing a district-wide volunteer opportunity are numerous. The team gets to reconnect with their friends and colleagues. They get to do something positive in the community. Your district’s commitment to a culture of service will shine like a beacon, facilitating a positive relationship with your community and drawing like-minded candidates to your open positions.
Most districts would choose something that doesn’t have to do with education, since that can feel too much like the other 10 months of the year. Instead, you want to go do the route of a shared experience. Habitat for Humanity is great for team building. The local Ronald McDonald House always needs volunteers, particularly in cooking meals. If there is some sort of beautification project around town, that would work as well. Get creative, or – even better – conduct a survey to see what everyone is interested in doing.
4) Study abroad
Many people like to travel during the summer. Why not organize a trip for your staff and provide an opportunity for shared experiences that can serve as the foundation for team building and even help inform instruction.
Obviously, if you organize a study abroad trip, not everyone can or will be able to participate. But if you get a large enough group together, you might be able to get some bulk pricing discounts and offer your staff a deal that is too good to refuse. Your only investment would be some time and effort. Of course, a professional development grant here or there can help lighten that load even further.
Teamwork and communication are essential to a positive work environment, especially in education, where a positive coaching culture can have a significant impact on student achievement. Sometimes, it’s best to get away from the familiar and expand your horizons together. Pictures, journals, and video can be reused next year in the classroom, integrated with lesson plans, or used to decorate office walls.
5) Open the facilities
Some schools get locked down the week after school is over. Maintenance needs to be completed or the power needs to be conserved. Although there are reasons for this common practice, it might be beneficial to give your staff the opportunity to come and go at their leisure.
Many teachers would love the extra time to prepare for the upcoming school year. In more open campuses, it is common to see employees coming in early to set up their rooms, organize materials, and try to acquire what they don’t have before the pre-school meetings begin.
There are also some facilities that teachers would like to use on a personal basis. Most schools have gyms. Some even have pools or weight rooms. Save your staff the cost of a gym membership by getting more use out of these expensive resource rooms. If you have student athletes coming in at set times, create an open hours schedule and post it to your employee portal. Computer labs and makerspaces can spark creativity and allow teachers to explore potential new instructional approaches in a hands-on environment.
Professional development and collaborative culture are the two linchpins of high-performing school districts. The two months of summer vacation offer a unique opportunity to keep your staff engaged and invested. By offering supporting resources for your team to pursue professional goals and participate in district activities, you can demonstrate a clear leadership commitment to the personal growth of those who are tasked with making your vision a reality.
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