by Emily Meixner
In some states around the country, students and teachers are already heading back to school. Luckily, in New Jersey, we still have a few more weeks before our official, usually post-Labor Day start date. If you’re like me, the last few weeks in August can get lost in a haze of school shopping, panicked planning, and attempts to squeeze out a few more minutes with family and friends. August doesn’t always seem like the perfect time to pack in some personal professional development. And yet…
There are still ways to make use of these last few weeks that can contribute to our professional growth as teachers as well as our students’ learning during the next school year. Here are a few suggestions:
- Put together a list of the first 10 books you want to book talk or (if you love and use picture books) read aloud to your students. These could be books you read over the summer or books your students loved last year. Sometimes having books pre-selected takes the pressure off. It’s one less thing you have to think about during those first few weeks of school, and knowing which books you want to book talk will help you establish a culture of reading with your students.
- Find a new professional blog or teaching resource website that you enjoy. Maybe you’re addicted to children’s and YA literature. If so, check out The Nerdy Book Club blog. Maybe you love current events. If that’s the case, you might enjoy The Learning Network from The New York Times. Other possibilities include Edutopia, Cult of Pedagogy, Disrupt Texts, Moving Writers, Teaching for Change, Welcoming Schools, Teaching Tolerance, The Educator Collaborative, and many many more. All of these sites are thoughtfully curated and can support the teaching you want to do or are already doing.
- Seek out and follow a new hashtag on Twitter. You could decide to follow something local like #njcte, #nerdcampnj, #njamle, #njliteracy, or #njela. Or, maybe you want to try a larger organization like #ncte, #NCTEVillage, #CELchat, #TheEdCollab or #ProjectLitBookClub. Or, maybe you want to follow the conversations that are happening with #DisruptTexts, #BuildYourStack, #ClearTheAir, #educolor, or #futurereadylibs Whatever you choose, you’ll find yourself meeting educators from all over the country who are excited about their work, asking important questions, and sharing ideas.
- Stalk or (better yet) participate in a Twitter Chat. Some chats only last 30 minutes; others last an hour. Many of the hashtags listed above host regular (either weekly or monthly chats) as do groups like #mgbookchat or #titletalk This is another great way to meet other like-minded, like-spirited teachers. And, these chats can provide inspiration and new resources when the teacher well starts to run dry later in the year.
- Learn how to use a new digital tool. Maybe this is the year you’re finally going to give FlipGrid a go, or maybe you want to try your hand at screencasting (if you have Chromebooks, Screencastify is super easy). Or, maybe like me, you’re curious about voice recording as a way to generate or give feedback on student writing. Whatever your interest might be, pick a tool and try it. If you hate it, your students will never know. If you love it, you’ll know how to use it when school begins!
- Commit yourself to finishing one more book. This could be fiction, non-fiction, YA, or a professional book you’ve been meaning to get to. It really doesn’t matter if you read this book or listen to it. Both count. What matters is the act of engaging in the exact literacy practices you want to cultivate in your students.
- Organize a book club for the fall with friends or colleagues. Sometimes it’s hard to keep reading once the school year starts because life gets crazy. Organizing or hosting a book club can help and provide some much needed time to learn while also unwinding with friends or colleagues (food and fun are a must!). Maybe there’s a book you and some of your colleagues are thinking about teaching, or maybe there’s something you’ve been dying to read. Or, maybe there’s a problem at school that a professional development book can help you and other teachers start to solve. Pick a book, invite some people, and go for it!
- Finally…before this list gets too long…Find a local or national conference or PD institute you’d like to attend and put it on your calendar. Think big and ask for help from your school. Particularly if you want to attend something like the annual NCTE convention or a summer institute of some sort, asking administrators months in advance can be advantageous. If they can’t or won’t commit the resources, then look locally. NJCTE offers two inexpensive conference every year, one in the fall and one in the spring. Both are great.
So, even though it’s already August, it’s not too late! There’s still time to get inspired and grow professionally.
Here’s to a great school year!
Emily Meixner is an Associate Professor of English at The College of New Jersey where she serves as the coordinator of the Secondary English Education Program.
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