The Summer Time Teacher

If I had a dollar for every time I heard “teachers have it made – they get the summer off,” I’d be rich. Well teachers, it’s time to share with the world what really happens in the summer and debunk some ugly myths.

Yes, teachers get a break in the summer. Yes, teachers only work 10 months a year. Yes, teachers LOVE their summer breaks. But here’s the other side of the story. The one that only other teachers know…

We work during the summer. Yup, that’s right! It may not be at the school building but teachers work hard during the summer. Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I haven’t indulged in some pretty awesome summer perks – because I have. What teacher hasn’t slept in (or slept all day), binged watched Netflix shows, not put on “real” clothes, or forgotten what day of the week it is during the summer? I know I have. But not for the entire summer!! I usually have 1-2 days of recuperation before my type A personality kicks in and I create my to do list for the break.
This past summer break I did some pretty amazing things for myself and my career. Most teachers do. Let’s explore the average teacher’s to do list during the summer.

1. Recuperate
Teachers need a break. They need a little time to turn their brain off and enjoy themselves. Teachers use this time to catch up on family time, too. Many teachers love spending this time with their kids to make up for long school days and weekend work sessions during the school year. Some teachers, like myself, save up money all year to travel. Others return home to visit their family and friends. Everyone needs a vacation. Everyone deserves it.

2. Professional Development
Most people don’t realize the amount of time teachers spend at conferences and trainings during their summer. Educators don’t do it for the money because it’s usually not reimbursed. In fact, many times teachers pay out of their own pocket to attend conferences. Teachers attend conferences such as EdCamps and ISTE to better their craft and because they love teaching. A lot of districts hold mandatory trainings and meetings during the summer because teachers can attend for longer periods of time and no one has to pay for a substitute to cover their class. I attended 3 different Professional Development conferences during my summer break this year. I’m not complaining…I loved all of them. I even got to hang out with my pero (professional hero), George Couros, at one of these meetings.

3. Professional Reading
It feels like there isn’t enough time to read professional books (of your choosing) during the school year. There are just too many other things that take priority. But during the summer time, the days are longer and other school duties are on hold. Personally, I have a stack of books I purchased to read over the summer. These books have been trending on Twitter and other educators are raving about them. Some of the titles include Shift This by Joy Kirr, Kids Deserve It by Adam Welcome and Todd Neslonely, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth by Aaron Hogan, and Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess. Educators spend their summers reading so they can hone their craft and be innovative teachers and leaders. But they mostly do it for their kids. They want to rock their students’ world!!

4. Planning
Teachers spend time planning for their students during the summer. They meet with their grade level teams, write lesson plans, fine tune classroom management strategies, find new digital tools, and reflect on the previous year so they can make necessary changes. It’s a lot of work and most teachers never stop planning. I asked my friend and colleague, Jenni Clark @ClarksOwlstars, what she did over her summer breaks. She responded “I’m the kind of person who is already thinking about the next school year the week after school gets out! I make things and laminate things and come up with ideas for my classroom.” This is also the time frame when teachers do a lot of “back to school” shopping. They buy school supplies, classroom decorations, table tubs, pocket charts, calendars, planners, etc. We can’t help it! It’s hard for teachers to pass up a good Dollar Tree, Target, or Amazon shopping trip.

5. Research
Finding materials, Professional Learning Communities, and ideas to use at school has never been easier. Thanks to blogs, social media, and YouTube, teachers are able to connect with and learn from amazing educators all over the world. But staying connected takes time and energy. Summer breaks are the perfect time to research new ideas and develop old ones. Jonathon Miller @Miller_Teach, an Instructional Coach, used his summer break to take classes for graduate school, research new technology to share with teachers, and help his school become an International Baccalaureate school. He’s the kind of educator everyone else is just trying to keep up with. He told me, “Whenever I see something interesting like a new app or program I try it out as soon as possible and try to get a handle on how it is used so I can be ready to teach it to others”.

6. Schoolcation
Okay so I just made that word up but I couldn’t think of a term to describe this last thing teachers do during summer break. Schoolcation is all the time that teachers spend during their break at school. If your school is like mine, teachers are made to pack up materials and store them over the summer so that custodians can clean and repair their rooms for the next year. Teachers wait to get the all clear email and rush back to put their rooms in order again. There are also the times that teachers go to school to help out with camps, School Improvement Team meetings, and to meet with their teams.

Teachers spend a lot of time working, and not just during the school year. Most people don’t realize how much time and energy teachers spend on school work. So yeah, we get the summer off, but I think we’ve earned it. Don’t you?

Follow me on Twitter @LisaJohnsonEDU

Hi-Ho. Hi-Ho. It’s Back to School We Go!


So, it’s the beginning of July and I just set my alarm clock for 5:00 am.  Most teachers just read that statement and cringed!  But, I’m a teacher at a year round school and that means the year resets in July.  Don’t worry, though.  I LOVE teaching at a year round school.  I get breaks every nine weeks and so do the kids!  However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a tiny bit of vacation envy every time I see beach posts on Facebook.

635880001908628623-110636514_stevie-odysseyI love starting a new school year.  It’s cheesy, I know, but I love the new bulletin boards, fresh school supplies, and the millions of ideas buzzing through the building.  Even after 18+ years of teaching, I still love going to the store and buying a new planner for school and decorating my room for the students.  I also love buying the teachers small “Back to School” treats and delivering them on the first day of school.  At the beginning of the year, the possibilities seem endless.  Teachers have a pep in their step and students all have back to school outfits and big smiles when they walk in the building.  Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what causes this euphoria during the back to school season?  Is it the fresh start?  What causes such a spark at the beginning of the year?

Fast forward to October.  Momentum starts to slow down a tad.  Students begin to lose homework, teachers take more “sick” days, and the days seem to pile one on top of the other.  Again, why is this?  Is it because teachers AND students are over-worked?  Is it because we are approaching the holidays and getting cabin fever?

Now fast forward again to February.  Whew.  This is a tough time in the school year.  The days are short but the work load seems longer than ever.  Flu season hits and we all seem to be hanging on by a thread.UnknownIf you thought winter was rough, think back to last May.  There is no tired like end of year teacher tired.  Testing, grades, parent conferences, paper work, and exhausted kiddos.  This can be a lethal combination for a teacher.  What happened to the pep in your step?

I have a theory.

I believe the reason this happens is because teachers burn the candle at both ends for 180 school days plus work days, weekends, and late nights.  I’m not arguing that teachers work harder than other professionals.  But what I am saying is that teachers are not only working in the classroom but also in their hearts and heads.  Non-stop.

Let me ask you a question.  giphyHave you ever had an idea about school in the middle of the night and because you were so excited, couldn’t sleep (and probably got up to work on it)?  Have you ever been in a store and seen something that makes you think of a student?  Do you do school work on the weekends?  Do you read professional books in the summer?  Can your significant other name most of your students because you talk about them at home?  I bet I know the answer.  Teachers are hard workers.  They are passionate about their craft.  Teachers love teaching.  Because we are such passionate professionals, we work at full speed, as hard as we can, everyday.

So how do we extend that beginning of the year feeling and stay positive all the way until the last day of school?  To be honest, I don’t know. There will be rough days.  There will be days that you feel defeated. However, I do believe it all boils down to mind-set.  This year, I am choosing to be positive and stay focused on the big picture.  The kids.

On those days when I feel a gripe session coming on, instead of complaining and spending a lot of energy being negative.  I will choose to remain focused on the positive.

On the days when a colleague comes to me in a state of negativity as mentioned above, I will once again, choose to focus on the positive as well as help them regain focus, too.

On the days when lessons, meetings, trainings, or conferences don’t go as planned.  I am going to choose to focus on the positive.

Sounds kind of Pollyanna, right?  I don’t mean to say I’ll never have a bad day or complain.  What I do mean is that I will rise above the negativity and remain positive.  I will do it for the students, teachers, parents, and staff who count on me.  I will do it because one nasty comment can undo months of relationship building.  I will do it because it’s not about me.  It’s ultimately about the kids.

Let’s make this a great year for our students!




The Non-Complacent Teacher

Isn’t it interesting how so many teachers are self-proclaimed nerds?  Nerd is a term that recently has become quite trendy.  That has not always been the case.  When I was in middle and high school, I can assure you it was an insult to be called a nerd.  I cringe remembering how in some cases, I did all that I could to avoid that label. However, today I wear the nerd label proudly.  It’s hard work staying on top of research, trends, conferences, and professional literature.  But the end result is so worth it.  Here are some ways I manage to be non-complacent in a career that has spanned over 18 years and will hopefully grow to 30+ years.

Get Connected!

Make sure to make connections to other educators.  Start within your own building.  Find a group of like-minded, positive people that you can learn with and from.   Then, gradually expand to others in your district, state, and across the nation.  One easy way to do this is through social media.  I joined Twitter last year and it has changed my career.  I have connected with educators across the country (and world) that have inspired and taught me how to be a better teacher.  I believe in the power of Professional Learning Networks (PLNs).  But you have to go out there and get involved!

IMG_1329Another way to stay on top of trends and research in the education community is to join organizations and subscribe to professional journals.  I love receiving my “Literacy Today” magazine from the International Literacy Association.  After I read them I bring them to school to share with other teachers in my building.  It’s crucial that educators know what is happening outside of the bubble that is their district and state.

Conferences, Camps, and Collaboration…Oh My!

Hopefully you work in a district and/or school that promotes professional development.  If so, take advantage of the conferences around your state or even the nation.

I have a few big tips for attending a conference.  First, go with a team if possible.  I say this because I have attended conferences by myself as well as with a group.  The difference is amazing.  After attending solo, I would come back to my school and be so excited to change the world.  One small problem…I had to spend a lot of time creating buy in from my colleagues because they did not attend the conference, hear inspiring speakers, see the products, or get energized from being around other eager educators.   Attending a conference with a group allows you to split up and attend lots of different sessions and then come back together to collaborate.  On the flip side, you can also attend sessions together that align with your school/district vision and then debrief afterwords.  Plus, when you go with a group, they can hold you accountable for taking action after the conference.

My next tip is the “law of two feet“.  A lot of conferences have you register for specific sessions.  This is awesome because you are guaranteed a seat, you can focus on certain topics, and you can hear a variety of presenters.  However, not all sessions will be a perfect fit for you.  I have gone to presentations that, once in there, I realized I didn’t need that information or it wasn’t relevant for me.  I also have gone to sessions where I didn’t care for the speaker’s presentation style.  So, I used my “two feet” to quietly leave and find a session that did meet my needs.

There are so many great conferences out there.  Here are a few to get you started!

Staff Development for Educators or SDE is one of my favorites.  They offer conferences all over the country.  I have found that they offer a variety of topics, presenters, and locations.


North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching or NCCAT is a state funded conference available for North Carolina Teachers.  Housing, meals, and conferences are free to teachers.  This is a conference every NC teacher should experience.

IMG_1336International Society for Technology in Education or ISTE was created by educators in Oregon who asked “what if” questions about how to make teaching and learning more meaningful.  If you can’t afford to go to a national conference, find your state chapter, such as North Carolina Technology in Education Society or NCTIES.

IMG_1332EdCamps are participant driven and such a cool event to attend.  At the beginning of the camp, participants submit questions, ideas, and topics and the organizers of the camp design a schedule.  You can then go to any of the sessions that interest you.  Here is the catch…there are no presenters.  The participants engage in conversation and collaborate.  Most edcamps take place on the weekend and are FREE!  Learn more about them here.


Professional Literature

My professional library started with all of my education text books from college.  Then, my school began to give me books for professional development and book studies.  Over time, my collection grew.  However, I noticed that they were all books someone else had chosen for me.  I wanted to start adding books that I selected and that helped inspire me in the classroom.  I used to borrow my colleague’s books, but found that I like to annotate the text, add post-it notes, and highlight so I began to buy my own.  Here are a few of my favorite books.

Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros is a game changer.  Couros is also a dynamic public speaker, so if you get the chance to see him, I highly suggest it.

IMG_1330Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess is an inspiring book that will help impact student learning in your classroom.  Burgess explains how to engage students in your classroom.

The Artisan Teacher by Mike Rutherford is a “Field Guide to Skillful Teaching” and helps teachers examine 23 Themes such as Mid-Course Corrections, Time and Timing, and Stagecraft.

Image result for the artisan teacher

 The world of education changes almost daily.  It is easy to get left behind, fall into a rut, and become complacent.  Make sure to find ways to challenge yourself.  Find ways to get inspired and stay inspired.  Get involved in your educational community and become a change agent.  In doing so, you will impact student learning in your classroom, school, district, and even state.

I would love to hear what you do to be a non-complacent teacher.  Leave a comment including your Twitter handle to connect to other educators.

Remember to follow me on Twitter @LisaJohnsonEDU to read other educational posts.

My Tribe

If you have been in education long enough, you know that change is inevitable.  In my 18 years as an educator, I have seen the pendulum swing back and forth several times.  It can be overwhelming and confusing at times to know which philosophy to back or which soap box to stand upon.

With that in mind, I can always, always count on my tribe to guide me.  Merriam-Webster defines tribe as “a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest.”  Every educator needs a tribe.  This is your core group of people that support, challenge, inspire, and listen to you.  You know, your peeps.

Your tribe can consist of people you see everyday, your work spouse, your students, your gurus, and/or former colleagues.  My tribe is all of the above.

I depend heavily on my “work wife.”  She challenges me to be a better educator.  She is my sounding board when I have an idea and a listening ear when I’m frustrated.  On the days she is not at work, I struggle. I’m lucky in the fact that not only is she an amazing teacher and partner, but she is fun to work with.

I am fortunate to work at a school surrounded by some of the hardest working educators in the world.  The teachers, staff, and administrators I work with have one common goal: what’s best for the kids.  Day in and day out…the students come first.  It is because I work with such phenomenal teachers that I come to work everyday with my A game.  I don’t want to let them down. Even though I am the instructional coach, I learn just as much from them.  My administrators and my mentor support me in every way.  They trust my opinion and respect my experiences.  I could not be innovative or take risks without knowing they’ve got my back. They are part of my tribe.

Even though I don’t see them everyday, or near enough for that matter, my former colleagues are still part of my life.  There are certain teachers who have made huge impressions on me.  They taught me how to truly enjoy teaching.  They taught me to slow down and think things through, to look at the other side of the coin.  My supervising teacher while I did my student teaching taught me to leave my class at the end of the day as if a sub was going to walk in and teach the next day.  In other words, clear your desk of piles, have your plans perfect, and be 100% ready to go!  My two best friends in the world are former colleagues of mine and two of the BEST teachers I have ever seen!  They taught me how to love my students like a mama bear.  These educators have gone on to other schools, positions, or retired, but they made an impact on me.  They are my tribe.

I was once asked in an interview who my educational gurus were.  I faltered.  I had a bookshelf full of professional texts and magazines.  I had a read and researched many educators in grad school.  Why couldn’t I name a few in this interview?  Well, you’d better believe I can name them now! Through every phase of my educational career, I have had a professional hero or mentor.  The day I was hired for my first teaching job, I was handed the book “The First Days of School” by Harry Wong.  I read it cover to cover and it still has a place of honor on my bookshelf.  Dr. Jean Feldman helped me teach kindergarten by teaching me to sing and have fun with my students.  When I became a Literacy Specialist, I studied Fontas and Pinnell and taught many kids how to read.  Just this past week, I met George Couros at a conference.  His book “The Innovator’s Mindset” has transformed my leadership style.  They are part of my tribe (and don’t even know who I am!).

Finally, the most important members of my tribe are my students.  They may change year to year, but they will always be my kids.  I’m an educator.  I’m overworked and underpaid.  But I do it for them.  I believe that I can make a difference and I will not fail them.   I’ve heard people say time and time again that teachers make lasting impressions on students.  I agree.  But what often goes unsaid is that students make lasting impressions on their teachers, too.  They are a BIG part of my tribe.

So why have I spent 30 minutes writing a blog post about My Tribe?  Well, my advice to all educators is find a tribe.  Build your tribe.  Surround yourself with people that inspire you and make you a better person.  Who are the members of your tribe?  Have you ever heard the saying “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”?  Well, show me your tribe, and I’ll show you what kind of teacher you are.

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