From "summer brain" to "school brain"

I had a big summer. A huge summer. I got married, and I moved to New York City with my husband, where I'll be starting at a new school in less than a week while he begins a master's program at Columbia Teachers College. For two months, my brain has not been in school mode. All I've been thinking about is wedding-related rigamarole and the totally mind-consuming process of packing, moving, changing my name, etc. Up until Tuesday, I hadn't read anything education-related (not even my Twitter feed) or communicated in Spanish or tested new apps since the middle of June. I'm no stranger to "summer brain"--taking a mental break from school for the month of July--but my total detachment from the education world this summer feels deeper than years past. How am I going to get my "school brain" back?

First--and I admit this is silly--I had to buy some new school clothes. As juvenile as it seems, there's something about visualizing my first-week-of-school outfits that actually helps me realize that yes, school is starting, and yes, I want to be there, if only to wear those cute new evergreen skinnies for the first time.

Then, I had to familiarize myself with the physical space. So I went to school to see my new classroom and unpack the boxes of supplies I had shipped from my old school in June. While the room is still kind of a mess, my materials are there, and I can imagine myself there in my cute new evergreen skinnies.

Maybe I should take the plastic off before the first day of class.
Next, I read Paul Tough's How Children Succeed. This book definitely gave me the mental kick in the pants that I needed to remember that I'm an educator, and my work is important, meaningful and necessary. (If you haven't read it, you really must. Tough writes engagingly and persuasively about how to ensure success by building character in students.) Other summer reads that have inspired me, from this year and previous years, include Why School? by Will Richardson and Drive by Daniel Pink.

After that, I returned to Twitter. While my daily digests had been self-publishing through the summer, I hadn't interacted personally with any of my followers or checked in to see what great ideas my colleagues in the ed world were embracing. These are a few things that intrigued me:

  •  #20time and #geniushour. Setting aside 20% of total classtime for student-driven inquiry was something I'd considered after reading Drive, but had never implemented. I'm definitely going to be following @garnet_hillman and @ajjuliani as they guide their students to innovate by pursuing their own interests in long-term, student-designed projects.
  • Embedded Reading. This is a powerful strategy for improving reading comprehension skills, vocabulary and language control that I think can be used even beyond the world language classroom. Authentic texts are distilled to their simplest form, then recycled several times as details are layered back in. I think many years of teaching Spanish 4 and AP Spanish led me to take for granted that students would understand fairly sophisticated texts. I cannot allow that to happen this year, as I'll be teaching levels 1, 2, and 3 in a school that does not have an articulated long sequence of language classes, and I hope that ER will help me scaffold readings in an interesting way.
  • Mobile devices. Cell phones and tablets continue to dominate educational technology discussions. Mind/Shift recently published a good recap of resources for integrating digital technology into the classroom. While I'm pretty confident that I know how to manage those tools, I'm going to be teaching in an entirely different context, with different rules and expectations and very different students. It's worthwhile to take advantage of this transition to up my game and try some new things. (I will definitely implement more effective management strategies: one strategy that my husband tried this summer while teaching summer school was to have students leave their silenced phones on a desk at the front of the room, until they were needed to complete a classroom task. Even he left his old iPhone 3G there, subjecting himself to student derision, but modeling responsible behavior.) 
Finally--for now--I reviewed some of my Evernote lesson plans and reflections from last year's opening week. And mentally patted myself on the back for using Evernote to keep track of that really important stuff. See my earlier post here about using Evernote for lesson planning. Now I can reuse some past activities that were successful, and rework others that need tweaking, without reinventing the wheel or recycling stale material. 

So, I think I'm beginning to regrow some of those "school brain" cells. Oh--and I finally updated my blog. September will be a snap!

Side note: I'd like to give a shout-out to the many ed bloggers who write with much more regularity and dedication than I do while raising children, working full-time, completing graduate degrees, pursuing National Board certification, running nonprofit organizations, and/or publishing books, none of which I do (except work full-time). You all inspire me and humble me. See here, here and here. And here. And here and here.


  1. Sounds like a great year!!!

    with love,

  2. I've been looking for a new way to lesson plan and came across your blog. I appreciate you sharing your Evernote lesson template. I have tweaked it for my own use and i finally feel like I've found something that will work for me! You have a lot of good ideas. Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    1. Thanks so much for reading! I'm glad you've found my blog helpful. Good luck this year!


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