Summer, for teachers, is an opportunity to hop off the hamster wheel and spend some time relaxing. It's also a great time to do some "spring cleaning." I’ve never been one to find cleaning my house particularly inspiring, but a summertime cleanup of both my actual and virtual teaching and working spaces does more than just leave me with a clean space in which to begin my fall planning. I’ve discovered the sorting and reviewing process helps me to identify what needs attention, improving, or refreshing, and to set some concrete goals for the coming school year.
The place I like to start is with my files, both digital and -- though I have a lot fewer than I used to -- paper. Computer files are especially important since a cluttered and disorganized laptop doesn’t look messy, but it's just as frustrating when you can’t locate what you need. Each summer, I set aside time to go through my files and get rid of anything I no longer need. This could include resource materials I decided not to use, earlier versions of revised assignments and lesson plans, and students’ digital work submitted the previous year -- though I sometimes keep a few samples of particularly excellent work for posterity.
The next step is to be sure my files are labeled so I can easily identify them. I try to choose a file name carefully when I create a new one, but sometimes when I’m in a hurry I just let Word name the file with the first few words of the document. Docs with titles like “Homework for Tuesday” or, worse, “Student Name” are not especially helpful. And downloaded documents often have cryptic names like “df117.rg_44” that are not helpful at all. Summer is the time to open these things up, figure out what they actually are, and, if I want to keep them, rename them with something more useful. Most of my files are named with the unit, assignment, and year -- for example, "India Caste Chart 2015." There are lots of good systems for naming files, so you'll want to find one that works best for your workflow.
Once files are properly named, they need to be organized to aid retrieval. I use a folder for each course, with folders inside for each unit of study. I have separate folders for other aspects of my work as well, from school policies and procedures to grades and reporting. The best part of this process, however, is what I put in a special new folder -- my "Summer to-do" folder -- where I can put whatever I’ve come across in my cleaning efforts that needs my attention. This might be anything from a lesson plan that’s gotten a bit stale and could use an overhaul, to an article I’ve been meaning to read, or a calendar or syllabus that needs updating for the coming year.
After I’ve completed this, I repeat the same process with my Google Docs and Evernote notebooks, as well as email and browser bookmarks -- purge, label, organize. I find that throughout the year I tend to bookmark or download material that looks promising -- resources for class, interesting approaches to instruction or assessment, articles about new tech tools -- and summer is when I have the time to really read it and consider whether I want to incorporate it into my teaching. I also give my professional bookshelf -- the one with real books on it -- the same once-over. Though this might seem time-consuming, it’s not as big a task if I do it every summer, and it’s always worth it when I discover those lost treasures that inspire me to really look forward to fall.
4. Get Inspired
What I find during my summer cleanup often sparks ideas for goals for the coming school year. Each year, I try to set three uniquely different goals. The first is a goal to address a particular problem or shortcoming in a course -- perhaps that unit assessment I noticed that needs updating to reflect recent curricular changes. Second, I set a goal that excites me -- something that sounds fun and engaging. This is often something I’ve discovered reading through articles or websites I bookmarked during the year -- maybe a new tech tool to explore with my students, or a workshop or seminar to attend. Finally, each year I try to set one goal that scares me just a little, something that pushes me a bit beyond my comfort zone. In fact, that’s exactly how I ended up becoming a Common Sense Certified Educator EdTech Mentor and writing my first blog post.