Rethinking/Rebranding “Back-to-School”

Last week, my wife and I were conversing about our “back-to-school” experiences as children. She reminisced about how she was so excited to go back to school. She elucidated her enthusiasm for meeting her new teacher and seeing her new classroom. She declared, “I couldn’t wait to meet my new teacher, see my new classroom, and see my new desk/seat!” She also recalled her excitement for back-to-school shopping. She would go back-to-school shopping with her entire family. She detailed her peculiar admiration for school supplies (special pencils, pretty-looking paper, extraordinary erasers, etc.) and how she loved these experiences and the back-to-school time of year.

For me, back-to-school was completely different. I was never excited about any of it. I wasn’t looking forward to meeting my new teacher. I was dreading my new seat in my new classroom. I loathed back-to-school shopping. In fact, I usually just handed my school supply list to my mom and she went to the store by herself and purchased everything. Interestingly, I have a feeling that my experience isn’t all that dissimilar compared to many kids, past and present.

I began to cogitate on the following: As educators, what can we do to ease the transition back into learning after summer break? I’m not talking about simply getting students excited about going back to school. I’m talking about getting students excited and prepared for re-engaging in cognitive activity. I’ve seen the back-to-school parades on youtube and twitter. I’ve seen entire school rallies with popular sports mascots encouraging students to “get back in the game”. I’ve seen schools begin the school year with field trips and field days in order to ease the transition. I’m sure those types of activities certainly have the potential to excite students about being present in school after the culmination of summer break. However, I see getting excited about simply being present back at school as different from getting students excited about re-engaging in learning.

I also thought about a typical response to my cogitation: Students should continue learning throughout the summer. Thus, if students continued learning all summer (by going to the library, experiencing museums, engaging in activities at day camps, etc.), re-engaging in learning once school started back up wouldn’t be such a shock to the system. I completely understand the validity in that notion. Yet, I try to think about the kids like me (and the kids worse off than me). It’s not that my parents didn’t help continue the learning journey throughout the summer. They did. I went to summer camps. My family and I traversed the plethora of museums throughout Illinois and beyond. At dinner time, we talked about all the fun stuff we did during the day. We engaged in continuous dialogue about world events. My parents encouraged me to read (though, don’t tell my mom, I rarely ever read anything over the summer). Put plainly, I simply did not care about re-engaging in learning, let alone being present back at school.

In addition, throughout my years in education, I’ve served students who did not engage in a single learning activity the entire summer. I assure you, this is not an isolated incident. Unfortunately, this happens everywhere, regardless of race/socioeconomic status/culture/etc.

Therefore, as educators (parents are educators, too), what do you do to get your students (or your children)/prepare your students (or your children) for re-engaging in learning? Have you seen a school/district successfully rethink/rebrand “back-to-school” to encourage the dive back into cognitive activity and not just garner excitement about being present back at school?

Any tips or tricks you’d like to share? Feel free to do so!

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