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May 25, 2016

10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

By Genia Connell
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    We still have four weeks of school left, but I'm definitely in wind-down mode. We are finishing our final units and planning end-of-the-year field trips and activities. One end-of-the-year activity I honestly look forward to is cleaning and closing down the room — taking it back to the stark, sterile cinder block space that will be my clean slate when the new school year begins in a few months. It's a symbolic way of saying goodbye to one year while preparing for the next. This week I'm sharing some tips that make my end-of-the-year shut down something to look forward to. Hopefully you'll find some tips that make you shut off the lights on the last day of school with a smile on your face.

     

    1.     Make the Classroom Bigger

    My classroom is about 450 square feet, which is actually a nice size, but I have never once thought, My classroom is just too big! Place 28 desks, 35 chairs, tables, a classroom library, meeting space, a coatroom and oh yeah, me and the kids, and it can feel pretty packed. As I end my school year, I always look around to see where and how I can gain more space. In recent years I’ve removed large file cabinets, plastic storage units, old bookcases and last year — my desk!

     I Finally Ditched My Desk! 

    Last June, I made the big decision to finally get rid of my desk. Teachers have been putting their desks out to pasture for years, but I bucked the trend. I held onto mine like a security blanket. I loved my desk. It was my own special place in the room, and where else was I going to put all my pens and sticky notes? Last year it dawned on me that my desk was just like that treadmill in my bedroom. Sure it was a great place to stack things up, but it was never used for its intended purpose; not to mention, it took up space that my students could use. So, I ditched it! Now, because I still needed a place for my sticky notes and pens, I added a great cube organizer my daughter no longer wanted. I haven’t missed my desk one bit and now we have additional space for small groups to collaborate. Still hanging on to that treadmill though. One day...

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

    Bookshelf Switcheroo — Making a Trade

    In the excitement of getting rid of my desk last year, I also decided to part ways with some old bookcases I'd had for over 20 years. I traded three wide (ugly, broken, musty smelling) low profile, two-shelf bookcases for four taller, three-shelf bookcases that I had purchased at a garage sale for $10 each. The four bookcases, placed back-to-back, take up less room than the bookcases they replaced and hold almost double the books. Win-win!

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

    This year I have my sights set on getting rid of a big, brown rolling cart that's more like a forgotten storage unit on wheels. We'll see. 

    What large pieces of furniture do you absolutely need and what can you live without?

     

    2.     Use Your Phone for Pictures and Voice Memo Reminders!

    In order to get my room set up quickly, I use photos and voice memos so I know where everything is an where everything goes.

     

    Photos help me remember what my room looked like before I tore it apart and packed it all up. I’ve learned to take pictures of everything before I start cleaning and packing. Think about taking pictures of:

    • furniture set up

    • bookshelves and book baskets to remember where books go in the class library

    • the insides of cabinets and drawers to remind you what supplies you have and what you need to buy

    • bulletin boards labeled with dimensions

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

    Voice memos: This may just be for forgetful teachers like me, but I leave voice memos reminding me where I have stored things I need when I come back like student name cards and my first week’s lesson plans. You see, I have a bad habit of putting things in a “special” spot or moving things that have been in one place for years to a “better” place that I can’t remember when August rolls around. Now that I leave voice memos, I hang on to my class set of scissors until almost December (!) and have kept all of my magnets al the way until the last month of school.

    How to leave a voice memo on an iPhone:

    • Find and launch the voice memo app in a folder named extras.

    • Press the red record button and leave your memo.

    • When finished recording tap the red square stop button.

    • Press Done and you can name your memo.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    What pictures or voice reminders would it help for you to have in the fall?

     

    3.     Do a Digital Cleanup

    Too many digital files or emails cuts down on my computer's efficiency as well as my own, and I should know — I am a digital hoarder. Since our district added unlimited storage in emails and in the Cloud, I just don't delete things. I tend to save emails just in case. At the end of the year, however, I spend time before summer break to go through email and files I’ve saved on our district server. Here are easy ways to clean up and free valuable digital space.

    Shortcuts to Deleting Emails

    Sort by Sender: First, I sort emails by Received from which lets me know who sent every emails in alphabetical order. I can often delete several files at a time this way, especially if they came from businesses. When in doubt, use the subject line to help determine if the email is still important enough to save. 

    Sort by Date: After I’ve deleted by sender, I sort the emails by date from oldest to newest. I can see at a glance which emails are no longer necessary to keep. Any emails older than two weeks get deleted or placed into folders I’ve created in my inbox.

    Tip: When emails come in, I find it’s helpful to flag important ones. I use color-coded flags so I don’t accidentally delete information from parents, the office, my teaching team, or the district that I want to keep.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

    Files and Folders

    Files and folders get the same treatment as email. I sort by date from oldest to most recent. I delete:

    • content I no longer teach 

    • material I have not used in years

    • photos of students and events from years past

    Is everything saved on your computer relevant to what you are teaching next year?

     

    4.     Didn’t Use It? Donate It.

    I’m fortunate to have more “stuff” than I need or can use — mostly due to impulsive (compulsive?) shopping habits when I see something I think I absolutely need or just maybe might use sometime in the future. At the end of each year, I go through all of my teaching resources and make some decisions. If I haven’t used a poster, border, bulletin board set, etc. in a couple of years, and it’s still in great shape, I place it in the teacher’s lounge where it goes up for grabs. What gets put in the lounge usually doesn't last long (that includes donuts and birthday cake), and I'm happy my resources can find a happy home with a colleague. If what I'm getting rid of looks used, has yellowed or has an old musty smell, I send it directly to the recycling bin.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    5.     Organize the Classroom Library — Again!

    I have a problem, and I can’t imagine I’m alone. No matter how I organize and reorganize it, I’m never satisfied with my classroom library for more than two years. Two years is up this year. Since I last organized my library I have probably added over 100 new titles that have been carefully placed…wherever.

    During the last week of school I will enlist my army of third graders to help sort books into categories and, before placing them into baskets, label them:

    • Popular Series

    • Popular Author

    • Genre

    • Topic

    • Seasonal Theme

    I’ve already made some new labels using Word Workshop that I’ll laminate and tape on the newly organized baskets. When September rolls around, my library will be ready to go!

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    6.     Make Copies Now and Avoid the Long Line of Doom Later

    Earlier this month we were notified that one of our two copiers was going to be removed to save money. They wheeled it away the very next day. Now I don’t have numbers to back up my claim, but I’m guessing our 35+ staff members aren’t going to copy less with one less machine, we’re just going to stand in longer lines, waste more time, and feel even grumpier when the machine inevitably jams or is down for service. That’s why this end-of-the-year strategy of mine is more important than ever: I always make copies for the first quarter of the year before school lets out.

    Inside a binder titled Masters for the Start of the Year (clever, right?) I store all the things I know I always use such as morning warm-ups, math and reading assessments, and homework, etc. When I’m staying late to pack up my room, and no one else is around, I grab a set of masters, pop them into the copier, then I’m free to continue working in my room. These copies get placed into a file cabinet and free up time that just might be spent standing in long copy room lines in September.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    7.     Plan for the First Week of School

    I like my summer break to last as long as possible. That’s why over the years I’ve streamlined my classroom setup and try to spend no more than a week in the building before the first day of school, including professional development days. This is a HUGE shift from the three-plus weeks I used to spend — time I came to realize wasn’t necessary and led to me feeling like I needed a break come the middle of October!

    To minimize the time I spend in my classroom before I need to, I write out the first week's plans, gather all the books and materials I will need, make the necessary copies and put them all together in a drawer where all I have to do is open, grab, and go!

    If it seems like thinking forward to the first week is too hard to do, I discovered it's really not. The first week of school tends to have very little variation from year to year. My time is filled with get-to-know-you activities, baseline assessments and the first couple of lessons across the curriculum. While the plans I create aren't set in stone, they do give me peace of mind and more time to help my 28 new students begin forming our classroom community. 

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    8.     Decide on Next Year’s Theme

    Knowing next year’s theme now helps in many ways. You can:

    • purchase theme-related resources at end-of-the-year clearance sales

    • get bulletin boards set for the fall (see below!)

    • create your theme-related resources like job boards or nametags at your leisure over the summer

    Just last week our school decided to go with a transportation theme next school year and third grade chose race cars: Race to Success! My third grade teammates have already been able to decide on our hallway display, ordered a racecar-themed bulletin board and borders, and decided on a few first-week activities.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    9.     Prep Your Bulletin Boards

    I know each school handles end-of-the-year shutdown differently, so I realize I'm fortunate in that my bulletin boards either have to be cleared or simply covered with paper. So, when I cover my bulletin boards for the summer, I make sure that underneath the paper they are already prepped with a colored backing and borders. When I return in August and remove the paper, I am all set to fill my boards with work that my students complete.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    10.  Have Students Write Letters to Next Year’s Students:

    Two Birds, One Stone!

    During the last week of school I have my students write letters to the third graders who will be in my room this year. In these friendly letters students include information about:

    • what the new third graders can look forward to learning

    • the teacher (it’s always good!)

    • field trips we take

    • special activities

    • advice for success

    This is what I call a killing two birds with one stone activity. It’s an engaging exercise during the last days of school and the finished product always goes up on our welcome back hallway bulletin board making that one less thing I have to think about.

    Finally, enjoy the last few weeks with your class. I sometimes get so caught up thinking about how to prepare for the future, I forget to enjoy the present! Wishing you a restful, rejuvenating summer! Take care and thanks for reading this year!

     

     

     

    We still have four weeks of school left, but I'm definitely in wind-down mode. We are finishing our final units and planning end-of-the-year field trips and activities. One end-of-the-year activity I honestly look forward to is cleaning and closing down the room — taking it back to the stark, sterile cinder block space that will be my clean slate when the new school year begins in a few months. It's a symbolic way of saying goodbye to one year while preparing for the next. This week I'm sharing some tips that make my end-of-the-year shut down something to look forward to. Hopefully you'll find some tips that make you shut off the lights on the last day of school with a smile on your face.

     

    1.     Make the Classroom Bigger

    My classroom is about 450 square feet, which is actually a nice size, but I have never once thought, My classroom is just too big! Place 28 desks, 35 chairs, tables, a classroom library, meeting space, a coatroom and oh yeah, me and the kids, and it can feel pretty packed. As I end my school year, I always look around to see where and how I can gain more space. In recent years I’ve removed large file cabinets, plastic storage units, old bookcases and last year — my desk!

     I Finally Ditched My Desk! 

    Last June, I made the big decision to finally get rid of my desk. Teachers have been putting their desks out to pasture for years, but I bucked the trend. I held onto mine like a security blanket. I loved my desk. It was my own special place in the room, and where else was I going to put all my pens and sticky notes? Last year it dawned on me that my desk was just like that treadmill in my bedroom. Sure it was a great place to stack things up, but it was never used for its intended purpose; not to mention, it took up space that my students could use. So, I ditched it! Now, because I still needed a place for my sticky notes and pens, I added a great cube organizer my daughter no longer wanted. I haven’t missed my desk one bit and now we have additional space for small groups to collaborate. Still hanging on to that treadmill though. One day...

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

    Bookshelf Switcheroo — Making a Trade

    In the excitement of getting rid of my desk last year, I also decided to part ways with some old bookcases I'd had for over 20 years. I traded three wide (ugly, broken, musty smelling) low profile, two-shelf bookcases for four taller, three-shelf bookcases that I had purchased at a garage sale for $10 each. The four bookcases, placed back-to-back, take up less room than the bookcases they replaced and hold almost double the books. Win-win!

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

    This year I have my sights set on getting rid of a big, brown rolling cart that's more like a forgotten storage unit on wheels. We'll see. 

    What large pieces of furniture do you absolutely need and what can you live without?

     

    2.     Use Your Phone for Pictures and Voice Memo Reminders!

    In order to get my room set up quickly, I use photos and voice memos so I know where everything is an where everything goes.

     

    Photos help me remember what my room looked like before I tore it apart and packed it all up. I’ve learned to take pictures of everything before I start cleaning and packing. Think about taking pictures of:

    • furniture set up

    • bookshelves and book baskets to remember where books go in the class library

    • the insides of cabinets and drawers to remind you what supplies you have and what you need to buy

    • bulletin boards labeled with dimensions

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

    Voice memos: This may just be for forgetful teachers like me, but I leave voice memos reminding me where I have stored things I need when I come back like student name cards and my first week’s lesson plans. You see, I have a bad habit of putting things in a “special” spot or moving things that have been in one place for years to a “better” place that I can’t remember when August rolls around. Now that I leave voice memos, I hang on to my class set of scissors until almost December (!) and have kept all of my magnets al the way until the last month of school.

    How to leave a voice memo on an iPhone:

    • Find and launch the voice memo app in a folder named extras.

    • Press the red record button and leave your memo.

    • When finished recording tap the red square stop button.

    • Press Done and you can name your memo.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    What pictures or voice reminders would it help for you to have in the fall?

     

    3.     Do a Digital Cleanup

    Too many digital files or emails cuts down on my computer's efficiency as well as my own, and I should know — I am a digital hoarder. Since our district added unlimited storage in emails and in the Cloud, I just don't delete things. I tend to save emails just in case. At the end of the year, however, I spend time before summer break to go through email and files I’ve saved on our district server. Here are easy ways to clean up and free valuable digital space.

    Shortcuts to Deleting Emails

    Sort by Sender: First, I sort emails by Received from which lets me know who sent every emails in alphabetical order. I can often delete several files at a time this way, especially if they came from businesses. When in doubt, use the subject line to help determine if the email is still important enough to save. 

    Sort by Date: After I’ve deleted by sender, I sort the emails by date from oldest to newest. I can see at a glance which emails are no longer necessary to keep. Any emails older than two weeks get deleted or placed into folders I’ve created in my inbox.

    Tip: When emails come in, I find it’s helpful to flag important ones. I use color-coded flags so I don’t accidentally delete information from parents, the office, my teaching team, or the district that I want to keep.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

    Files and Folders

    Files and folders get the same treatment as email. I sort by date from oldest to most recent. I delete:

    • content I no longer teach 

    • material I have not used in years

    • photos of students and events from years past

    Is everything saved on your computer relevant to what you are teaching next year?

     

    4.     Didn’t Use It? Donate It.

    I’m fortunate to have more “stuff” than I need or can use — mostly due to impulsive (compulsive?) shopping habits when I see something I think I absolutely need or just maybe might use sometime in the future. At the end of each year, I go through all of my teaching resources and make some decisions. If I haven’t used a poster, border, bulletin board set, etc. in a couple of years, and it’s still in great shape, I place it in the teacher’s lounge where it goes up for grabs. What gets put in the lounge usually doesn't last long (that includes donuts and birthday cake), and I'm happy my resources can find a happy home with a colleague. If what I'm getting rid of looks used, has yellowed or has an old musty smell, I send it directly to the recycling bin.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    5.     Organize the Classroom Library — Again!

    I have a problem, and I can’t imagine I’m alone. No matter how I organize and reorganize it, I’m never satisfied with my classroom library for more than two years. Two years is up this year. Since I last organized my library I have probably added over 100 new titles that have been carefully placed…wherever.

    During the last week of school I will enlist my army of third graders to help sort books into categories and, before placing them into baskets, label them:

    • Popular Series

    • Popular Author

    • Genre

    • Topic

    • Seasonal Theme

    I’ve already made some new labels using Word Workshop that I’ll laminate and tape on the newly organized baskets. When September rolls around, my library will be ready to go!

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    6.     Make Copies Now and Avoid the Long Line of Doom Later

    Earlier this month we were notified that one of our two copiers was going to be removed to save money. They wheeled it away the very next day. Now I don’t have numbers to back up my claim, but I’m guessing our 35+ staff members aren’t going to copy less with one less machine, we’re just going to stand in longer lines, waste more time, and feel even grumpier when the machine inevitably jams or is down for service. That’s why this end-of-the-year strategy of mine is more important than ever: I always make copies for the first quarter of the year before school lets out.

    Inside a binder titled Masters for the Start of the Year (clever, right?) I store all the things I know I always use such as morning warm-ups, math and reading assessments, and homework, etc. When I’m staying late to pack up my room, and no one else is around, I grab a set of masters, pop them into the copier, then I’m free to continue working in my room. These copies get placed into a file cabinet and free up time that just might be spent standing in long copy room lines in September.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    7.     Plan for the First Week of School

    I like my summer break to last as long as possible. That’s why over the years I’ve streamlined my classroom setup and try to spend no more than a week in the building before the first day of school, including professional development days. This is a HUGE shift from the three-plus weeks I used to spend — time I came to realize wasn’t necessary and led to me feeling like I needed a break come the middle of October!

    To minimize the time I spend in my classroom before I need to, I write out the first week's plans, gather all the books and materials I will need, make the necessary copies and put them all together in a drawer where all I have to do is open, grab, and go!

    If it seems like thinking forward to the first week is too hard to do, I discovered it's really not. The first week of school tends to have very little variation from year to year. My time is filled with get-to-know-you activities, baseline assessments and the first couple of lessons across the curriculum. While the plans I create aren't set in stone, they do give me peace of mind and more time to help my 28 new students begin forming our classroom community. 

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    8.     Decide on Next Year’s Theme

    Knowing next year’s theme now helps in many ways. You can:

    • purchase theme-related resources at end-of-the-year clearance sales

    • get bulletin boards set for the fall (see below!)

    • create your theme-related resources like job boards or nametags at your leisure over the summer

    Just last week our school decided to go with a transportation theme next school year and third grade chose race cars: Race to Success! My third grade teammates have already been able to decide on our hallway display, ordered a racecar-themed bulletin board and borders, and decided on a few first-week activities.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    9.     Prep Your Bulletin Boards

    I know each school handles end-of-the-year shutdown differently, so I realize I'm fortunate in that my bulletin boards either have to be cleared or simply covered with paper. So, when I cover my bulletin boards for the summer, I make sure that underneath the paper they are already prepped with a colored backing and borders. When I return in August and remove the paper, I am all set to fill my boards with work that my students complete.

    10 Things to Do Before Summer Break Begins

     

    10.  Have Students Write Letters to Next Year’s Students:

    Two Birds, One Stone!

    During the last week of school I have my students write letters to the third graders who will be in my room this year. In these friendly letters students include information about:

    • what the new third graders can look forward to learning

    • the teacher (it’s always good!)

    • field trips we take

    • special activities

    • advice for success

    This is what I call a killing two birds with one stone activity. It’s an engaging exercise during the last days of school and the finished product always goes up on our welcome back hallway bulletin board making that one less thing I have to think about.

    Finally, enjoy the last few weeks with your class. I sometimes get so caught up thinking about how to prepare for the future, I forget to enjoy the present! Wishing you a restful, rejuvenating summer! Take care and thanks for reading this year!

     

     

     

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