The 2021 end-of-year celebrations likely brought a greater sense of accomplishment than normal for educators, students, and families, but we know the last few months may have been a blur.
As educators recharge this summer, how can they best reset to prepare for the year ahead? Here are some ideas from NIET team members on how to regroup and recharge over the next few weeks.
Identify the successes, let go of the challenges
In a year like this one, it's easy for the lows to overpower the highs. A way to reverse this thought is to list your "wins"—even small ones—and new learnings in a box on a piece of paper. Outside the box, write down the challenges from the past year that were beyond your control. Removing them from your inner space will help you let them go. In the box, circle one success you would like to repeat next year and list the concrete steps you will take to do so. This will bring a positive focus to your everyday work.
Write thank-you notes to teachers and students
Research shows that acts of gratitude can make people happier. Did a fellow teacher go the extra mile to help you this year? Which students performed a gesture of kindness to you or others? Consider writing them a thank-you note to show that their work was seen and appreciated. Your students and peers will feel valued and you will have strengthened meaningful relationships heading into next year.
Start a gratitude journal—or gratitude sticky notes
Spend a few minutes reflecting on what is going right and what you are proud of. Nothing is too small. Before school starts, you could identify a few items to share with your team, and do this periodically throughout the year to keep morale high, perhaps getting in a routine every Friday afternoon to reflect on what you are grateful for. Store the journal or notes near you to reference whenever you need to refocus.
Establish your “word” for the coming year
Is there a word that encompasses the mindset you want to achieve in the coming year? It can be an action like "motivate" or "accelerate," or a character trait like "resilience." When you have identified your word, frame it and place it on your classroom wall. List actions to keep you centered around your word. Better yet, suggest actions your students can take, connected to your instruction, to "own" the word—and the learning—too.
Commit to a positive affirmation
The simplest expressions can have the deepest meanings. This summer, your affirmations could be, "This year was hard, but I did my best and made a difference in my students' lives." Or, "This year was different, but the work I did mattered." Examples for the coming year could be, "You are compassionate," "You are loved," or "You have great inner strength." Create or select an affirmation that resonates with you and practice reciting it regularly.
Re-center around your “why”
Refocusing on why you entered teaching/education, what your philosophy is, and what inspires you every day will provide a source of strength in an environment that changes day-to-day. This summer, make a list of the reasons why you became an educator and refer to it when you need a moment to step back and reflect. This can be a useful team exercise as well, creating the opportunity to motivate each other and ground everyone in your school's goals and work.
Support both the academic and social-emotional needs of teachers and students
This summer, think of ways you can continue or build on methods to address the social-emotional needs of teachers and students. With the return to full-time, in-person instruction and work to address learning gaps, the need to nurture mental health will be equal to or greater than before. Embedding social-emotional learning practices into your instruction or leadership practices will help build trust and create a safe space for teachers and students.
Maximize the use of technology to strengthen relationships within your school community
While "Zoom fatigue" is real, online platforms—used strategically—can bring the school and community closer together. Online parent-teacher conferences and community town halls have served working families well this past year. Platforms such as Seesaw and Google Classroom have provided teachers, students, and families with a reliable way to submit assignments, offer feedback and track academic progress. Reflect on the benefits of online tools in your school and identify ways they can be maximized to enhance educational opportunities for your students and build community.
Select a “wellness buddy”
During the pandemic, have you relied on a colleague or friend for academic and/or emotional support? Consider continuing this relationship or creating a new one in the coming year. Participating in wellness practices with a trusted colleague or friend, celebrating successes, and tackling challenges together can provide needed comfort, strength, and emotional relief all year long. Maybe you can go for a walk together on Wednesday afternoons or hold each other accountable for not dwelling on the negative.
Recharging and resetting will look different this summer as schools continue to navigate new learning and strengthen their community through the pandemic. Taking simple, practical steps now will equip educators, their teams, and students for a successful school year and develop their role as lifelong learners.
Dr. Candice McQueen is the chief executive officer of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET).
Prior to Dr. McQueen's role at NIET, she was Tennessee's commissioner of education for four years. As commissioner, she led the creation of a strategic plan called Tennessee Succeeds, which became the department's plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Tennessee ...