Summer School in December

“Raquel, I want your classroom to be like summer school,” my principal, Matt Arend, said to me after spending some time in my classroom. “Your students need you to be that summer school teacher… all year long.” These words have weighed heavy in my mind for the last few weeks.

Three summers ago, when I walked into teacher orientation for PAL Summer School, the principal (Matt Arend) talked passionately about being innovative. He said try teaching ideas that you didn’t have freedom to try during the school year to help students gain skills they hadn’t learned during the school year. That summer school speech has stuck with me since and kept me coming back to to teach each summer. My questions: How was I different as a summer school teacher? How can I get that innovation into my classroom all year long?

On this journey to bring “summer school” to my classroom, I leaned heavily on teammates, colleagues and my students. Through this journey, I realized there was one major difference between the “summer school” me and the “school year” me… how I deliver content, not the content itself.

With this realization, I have spent time modifying my content delivery in these ways:

1. Lesson plans:

With help of Fifth Grade’s bilingual teacher, Dora DeBoer, I changed the nature of my lesson plans from a static list of topics to a living “hyper document” that was accessible not only to other teachers but students as well. These “hyper docs” guide my students through the learning process. These live hyper docs also allowed me to share my content expertise and get language support expertise from Dora.

2. Intentional Real World Problems:

I sought out expertise from my district’s curriculum department. Even though I am not one to ask for help, I decided to reach out to Laurie Taylor (my former principal) in our district’s Elementary Academic Services. She connected me with Ginger Teaff, the district’s math coordinator. Both Laurie and Ginger took time to meet with Dora and I to answer questions and offer ideas to spark student engagement. Ginger suggested introducing new concepts with a real world problem that students don’t have enough information to solve. When they reach the “wall” of not knowing, there is necessity to learn more.

3. Collaborative Partners:

Finally, I raised student engagement by changing my content delivery from whole group to collaborative partners. I put forethought into how I paired students by taking in account ability, personality, work speed, and work ethic.

This week, the trifecta of living lesson plans, knowledge driven real world problems, and intentional collaborative student partners catapulted me to PAL Summer School. My students were engaged and proud of their accomplishments. And, I got the same feelings I get teaching summer school… rejuvenation, and pride. I am proud to call myself teacher.

Thank you to Matt Arend, Dora DeBoer, Laurie Taylor, and Ginger Teaff. Your ideas and support were inspirational!


Author: raqueldixonblog

I am starting my 13th year as a fifth grade teacher and have a total of 22 years as teacher under my belt. I have a BFA in metal working and a MEd in Special Education. My favorite part of being a teacher is it is a place I can be myself. My classroom feels like home.

One thought on “Summer School in December”

  1. Excellent article. Thank you for taking time to express your thought process, challenges, and solutions. Being an outstanding teacher requires continuous growth with new challenges each year. You never cease to amaze me and I know your students are grateful to have this “constant” in their lives.


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