For principals especially, whose “summer” varies in length depending on their contracts, this is a time to think broadly about your leadership, Mason says. “Ask yourself, whose advice did you consult, whose input did you privilege? How did those decisions contribute to where you are now, as the year ends?”
Take stock of the bigger picture and figure out where you’re going next in driving the initiatives that you care about, she says. “Think about, what does the learning community look like within my building? Is it a community of collaboration among adults, among children, and across constituencies — including teachers, paraprofessionals, families, and community partners? Are they all committed to learning?
“This is a time to look up — look at the larger context in which your school is situated.”
For principals and senior leaders — who rarely disconnect entirely — the process of reflection has to be accompanied by periods of downtime. “School leaders need to know where their happy place is,” Mason says. “Is it golf, is it the spa, is it playing chess? Whatever it is, they have to give themselves permission to do that. When you do, that’s when you have the insights and the opportunity for renewal."
In order to begin the unwinding, it’s important to “acknowledge the year and then leave it,” says Vicki Jacobs. “Process it, learn from it, and put it aside.” For Jacobs, who leads the Teacher Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, summer doesn’t bring long stretches of downtime. The program's summer component for incoming candidates begins barely three weeks after the last cohort’s commencement, so she’s actively teaching and mentoring for much of the season. But she’s found that even small and simple diversions are helpful.
She reads (“nothing that’s going to make my brain hurt too much, even as I appreciate recommendations for great reads”), makes it a priority to connect with friends, and enjoys the sense of accomplishment that weeding her garden can bring.
She regularly takes long walks and lets her mind wander. She makes a point of cooking with fresh summer produce, and of noticing how late the sun is setting.
Educators are “always on,” Jacobs says. And they’re “constantly having to see themselves through other people’s eyes. Summer gives us time to look outside ourselves.”
At the same time, it gives us an opportunity to reconnect with who we are at our core. “So much of a teacher’s life is about meeting needs, meeting expectations, being accountable,” she says. “Summer is a time to recover what we want to do, not what we need to do.”
Getting away from the work is critical, says Eric Shed, but summer also brings opportunities for recommitting. Shed, who directs the Harvard Teacher Fellows program (where the work is in high gear for most of the summer), urges teachers to be intentional about their professional development — seeking out summer opportunities “that are really centered around your own growth and interests and tied to a larger professional goal.”