There’s a hundred and four days of summer vacationhttps://youtu.be/NkQrKxTFARM
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it
There’s a hundred and four days of summer vacation…
Every June brings the end of another school year. After conquering another milestone in their education, students are ready for time off. So are educators. Teachers have earned a break from school and certainly need time to recharge.
Inevitably, I am asked by non-educators, “What are you going to do with all of your free time?” Yes, I technically have summer off, but I’m never coasting on free time. I recharge by being as productive as possible. I make the most of the time I have available when I am not restricted by a set daily schedule.
This year, when asked about my plans for the summer, I didn’t have a specific response. For the first time in my professional career, I am not coaching high school varsity baseball over the summer and dealing with the many responsibilities included in leading an athletic program. This year, our season shifted from summer to spring to join the majority high schools in the United States. The transition created a new level of stress at the end of the school year (and this spring was miserable here in Wisconsin), but I remain passionate about teaching in the classroom and in the dugout.
…finding a good way to spend it
I know what I’m going to do today.
Now that I am a month into my vacation, I have answers. I have been busy. I spend more time enjoying adventures with my children, making new memories with family, playing, working out, writing, reading, completing projects around the house, participating in professional development, reflecting, learning, and planning. My time is well spent, productive, and fulfilling.
As in past summers, I use my time away from school to think about school, reflecting on what went well during the school year and what I plan to improve next year. I read as many education books as possible. I jot down ideas for future lessons. I collect resources for the classroom. Like so many educators, I am always invested in professional development and dedicated to my craft in and out of school. There is always more to learn—more to do. I am never bored.
Part of our family summer routine is my wife’s daily check-in to make sure all is well at home.
Today, I’ll let her know the dog is enjoying a bone, our son is completing an online driver’s ed lesson, and our daughter is making a card for her cousin. All is well…
And I’m writing about summer vacation, inspired by Phineas and Ferb—a family favorite. [Okay, my favorite. One of the unspoken perks of parenting is watching cartoons and considering it quality time with the children.]
From 2007 to 2015, my kids (and I) enjoyed the cartoon about two young stepbrothers using their imagination and ingenuity to make every day of summer vacation the best day ever. Meanwhile, their jealous teenage sister tries to bust them, but fails, as the evidence of their daily exploits inexplicably disappears before their mom sees any remnants of the day’s excitement. Every episode also features the adventures of their pet, Perry the Platypus, who doubles as a secret agent protecting the Tri-State Area from Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s evil schemes.
But as I reflect on the creative genius of Jeff Marsh and Dan Provenmire, the show’s writers, I ponder the negative undertones of the theme song’s second line:
…And school comes along just to end it…
Don’t get me wrong, I scowl at Target’s back-to-school section in late June. I cherish summertime and don’t want to rush these precious months, but I always look forward to starting a new school year. Why does the coming of school have to indicate the cruel end of our summer adventures?
What if we re-imagine school with the philosophy of Phineas and Ferb?
Approach every day with the intention of making it the best day ever.
How so? Like maybe…
Allow the imagination to guide our learning.
Although school may follow the same start time every day, appear to follow the same routine, the structure on the calendar, everyday can have a fresh script with new adventures waiting to be discovered.
Challenge kids to use imagination to create, invent, make something that does not currently exist. If we want kids to think like innovators, why not challenge them to fill a need with the next great -inator? Maybe it’s not something we make. Perhaps, our contribution is an original idea, a remix, a fresh perspective.
Invite kids to explore and celebrate creativity.
Children have more to offer if we allow them autonomy, space, and time to pursue big ideas.
I have to be open to accept the unplanned. Intentionally explore spaces off the script. Allow discoveries to guide the tour. Then, ask bigger questions that ignite curiosity and invite deeper exploration of an idea. Be spontaneous. Rather than fight concerns of pacing and content coverage, celebrate the learning happening right in front of me. Teach kids how to think, not what to think.
Never underestimate the intelligence of our learners.
Our students are natural problem solvers. However, they grow complacent in the learning process. They become dependent on adults to point out flaws and show them how to correct errors. Worse yet, students wait for adults to tell them what to do and how to do it.
By the time students reach high school, the most frustrating task is when teachers ask open-ended questions or expect students to show evidence of their learning.
What should I do? How should I do it?
How long should it be? Do you have any examples?
Just tell us the answers.
When given the opportunity to create original outcomes, learners construct meaning in ways adults would never imagine. Phineas and Ferb creator Jeff “Swampy” Marsh insists, “you can never go wrong overestimating the intelligence of kids.”
Recognize the impact of introverts.
While Phineas is an outgoing genius, a social creature, and a natural leader, Ferb’s contribution to each day’s plan is often understated, but crucial to success. Ferb doesn’t crave attention; in fact, at times he may appear distant. He is a listener. A dreamer. He may not get recognized as a leader, but his perceptive mind is always engaged. If we are patient and respect Ferb’s need for quiet space, he will share his brilliance in the most opportune moments.
We all have these students. I need to find the Ferbs in the classroom and work with them to determine effective strategies for communicating their learning. Give them opportunities to celebrate their voice.
Accept failure as a meaningful part of life—an opportunity to grow—if we learn from it.
Poor Candace. She tries so hard. Candace keeps fighting for the truth. What some may perceive as tattling and an obsessive desire to bust her brothers, Candace simply wants her parents’ respect. To believe her for once. Just when she thinks she’s won, the plot twists. Likewise, Doofenshmirtz is doomed to similar outcomes. He concocts a new scheme to destroy the Tri-State Area in every episode, only to be foiled by a secret agent…platypus.
Why continue to get agitated over the same frustrations every year? Where did the system fail to teach students to use the apostrophe? Rather than complain about it, I should look deeper into the issue and ask others (students and colleagues) for help to find solutions.
If we are relentless in our pursuit, we can redefine success.
Unfortunately, Baljeet represents the stereotypical attitude that failing a math test is the “scariest thing known to man.” He craves knowledge and loves to learn. However, grades overshadow the joy of learning. That’s why the laid-back approach of Phineas and Ferb is a positive influence on him. They satisfy his intellectual curiosity and the outcome liberates him from the pressure of a grade. Success is redefined.
There’s always more to the story.
Where’s Perry? Certainly, we would not expect a platypus to be a secret agent protecting the Tri-State Area from evil. We are often oblivious to hidden truths; and we make assumptions. The student who cannot sit still may actually have squirrels in her pants. Having too many adult responsibilities is not an excuse. We can pay closer attention. And listen when kids try to communicate with us. The same holds true for how we interact with colleagues.
If we look beneath the surface, we will find there is more to discover.
While we’re at it, let’s recognize the harmful impact of labels. There’s good in everyone. Ferb is not simply a quiet kid with nothing to say. Perry is not just a pet. Even “evil” Dr. Doofenshmirtz is a loving father. Buford, the bully, is a rounder character than his stereotype indicates. He shows depth, compassion, and vulnerability beneath his hard exterior, especially when he feels respected by the other kids and has a sense of purpose.
Phineas’ appearance doesn’t stand out, yet he is respected by everyone. Although the bullies of the world are physically stronger, Phineas’ positive attitude makes others want to be around him. He accepts everyone for who they are and invites everyone along on the adventure. He celebrates everyone’s strengths, acknowledging how they can contribute to the adventure.
Be cool, consistent, resilient and composed.
Phineas is also the coolest kid in the neighborhood. When he inevitably encounters an obstacle in his plans, he never panics. He is consistently cool and composed. He is unfazed by stress.
If educators block out the negative forces, voices of jealousy, and downer attitudes; if we remain composed when challenged, confident in our purpose, calm when faced with the unexpected; if we don’t take ourselves too seriously; if we remember to make time for fun… we will withstand the adversity and stress of the school year.
Make no excuses.
Phineas and Ferb refuse to accept defeat. They do not let age, conditions, lack of resources, negativity, or other external forces interfere with their plans for happiness. When a concerned adult asks, “Aren’t you a little young to (fill in the concern of the day)…?” Phineas replies with an honest, “Yes. Yes, I am.” But that doesn’t stop him. After slight consideration, the adult respects the youngster’s plan and the plot advances.
Teaching humbles the most seasoned educator. Even as the adult in the classroom, I do not have all the answers. And I don’t have to. We will find solutions together.
Find fulfillment in the joy we create for those around us.
Educators are special agents on a mission. We continue to fight for social justice, create fair and welcoming environments for all, and ultimately, see good prevail over evil.
Continue to be selfless—an inherent quality of an educator—but not self-sacrificing. Join in the fun. Take pride in bringing joy to others, but don’t forget to include ourselves in the experience. Immerse ourselves in moments. Be present. Keep showing up everyday.
As you can see, there’s a whole lot of stuff to do
Before school starts this fall…
So, I’ve got to get back to work on my vacation.
Today’s gonna be a great day!