After a Master’s degree, 120-plus credits, and 30 years in education, I now understand that whatever I do and wherever I go, I am happiest when I’m learning. That’s never more true than in the summertime. And if I can find an opportunity that allows me to further my learning without sacrificing my summer vacation—or better yet, enhances it—you can bet I’m going to be the first to sign up.
The nice thing about summer learning is choice. During three decades of figuring out how to make the most of my summertimes, I’ve developed a list of my favorite PD opportunities for June through August. My suggestions certainly aren’t exhaustive, but they illustrate the kinds of experiences that are readily available to educators across the country.
1. Anytime, Anywhere: Online Learning
The number and variety of online PD providers has grown to the point that there is something for everyone.
- For those of you that like synchronous conversation, Twitter chats can help you connect to others with similar interests as well as provide a great forum to ask questions and get feedback on ideas. For a complete list of education hashtags, check out the official education chat page. If you’re looking for educators to follow, go no further than Educational Technology and Mobile Learning’s blog.
- Another option is live webinars; some of my favorites are the free ones offered by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) and edWeb.net. The webinars are recorded so if you can’t join one live, you can always watch it later.
- If you spend hours flipping through albums at the local record shop for fun, I suggest you check out Pinterest for Teachers or Facebook for Educators; the variety of quotes and visuals is infinite. If you get overwhelmed easily, start slow—once you open the door, you may not find your way out.
- Interested in graduate credit or clock hours? There are, of course, more formal options available. And remember, my favorite word is free; high cost doesn’t always mean high quality. The variety of material ranges from teacher produced content like BloomBoard to self-paced courses at Capella University.
Whatever your choice, you don’t need to succumb to the infamous summer brain-drain!
2. Face-to-Face: Conferences, Classes and Playing Tourist
As the mother of three, it is not uncommon for me to embrace the “egad” of high spirited children, then ship them off to summer camps or field trips at the park. For educator-parents, these weeks are perfect opportunities to participate in our own summer learning adventures.
- If you’re interested in subject specific happenings, check with state or local associations in your content area; groups like the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) often have a central location that curates offerings for teachers. Kennesaw State University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has a robust directory of teacher conferences; you can search by subject area and location.
- Folks who want to keep up with the latest best practices and gadgets should know that many education vendors offer training all summer long. Educational software company Vernier, for example, makes finding training opportunities as easy as searching by zip code. If edtech is your passion, check out EdSurge’s index of summer events.
- Try some of the local spots you only visit when family members fly in from out of town. Gardening is your hobby? Head to an arboretum or state forest for a hike. And don’t forget the obvious: nearby museums. Before heading over, find out if they have short classes for the day or guided tours. A few hours on a Saturday afternoon might lead to exciting new resources and practices for your classroom.
- Before hitting the road on a summer road trip, locate a couple of intriguing places off the beaten path. As a chemistry teacher, I’ve never been especially interested in prison history. But driving through Canon City, Colorado, I found the Museum of Colorado Prisons to be a fascinating window on the past. Learning outside your primary area of study can help you make connections that may be useful when trying to help your own students see relevance beyond the classroom.
Not that it is easy, but with some creativity and digging, a teacher can piece together a summer of robust learning for almost no money and expand her professional learning network along the way. If you’re really good at planning, you may find that you can combine travel to an out of state educators’ conference with with a family vacation—pleasing everyone without anyone being the wiser!
3. Quick and Easy Inspiration: Podcasts, Videos, Blogs and Books
Some of us can’t resist killing two birds with one stone. We strap on the rollerblades or lace up the running shoes and head out with earbuds in and a good podcast or TED talk humming in our heads.
- A couple of my favorite podcast series are RadioLab and 99% Invisible; both offer relatively short programs (35-50 minutes) that seamlessly blend culture, philosophy and curiosity into fast paced and captivating productions.
- Want to be inspired? Need some affirmation? Check out this TED talks playlist, a collection of talks from inspiring teachers; it’ll have you smiling and crying simultaneously. If you’re like me, once you’re in the midst of a series of videos, it’ll be hard to find your way out without bookmarking a few to share with colleagues.
- My last suggestion—but definitely not my least—is as simple as finding and devouring some good books and blogs written by educators for educators. My Island View, periodic writings by Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby), will challenge veterans to expand their comfort zones and truly work as change agents. I discovered his blog while working on my new year’s resolution to make more time to read good works about best practices and inspirational teaching. For more ideas, head to TES’s list of 33 books every teacher should read.You’re bound to find several additions for your professional library.
The advice we give our students about staying sharp and taking advantage of summer learning is certainly well intentioned. But unless we follow suit, we’re bound to fall victim to the very same brain-drain we try to help them avoid. Whether I sit on the deck in my pajamas, don a pair of hiking boots and head for the trail, or hit the tourist spots, there are plenty of opportunities to quench my thirst for knowledge as it grows over the hot summer months. What’s your favorite kind of summer learning? Please leave a Comment below.