Setting the Scene for Inspiration

I have a confession: It may be summer but I’m not the best at switching off and relaxing. 

In my defense, I know I’m not the only one. I firmly believe it’s the way we teachers are wired. We’re passionate about our jobs. We care about our students. Sometimes to our own detriment… That’s why, when I ended up in hospital with a giant kidney stone just one week before final exams and report deadlines, I knew I needed to approach this summer vacation differently.

Hospitals aren’t exactly the cheeriest of places but I lucked out; I had the presidential suite of hospital rooms. As I stared out at the cotton candy sunset sprinkling rose gold favors over the city skyline, I experienced a sense of clarity and wonder that until then I’d been too busy to even realize I was missing.

(I’m almost certain it had nothing to do with the morphine.)

Now that I’m home, instead of rushing straight into lesson planning for September, I’m planning to spend my days refreshing my mind and recharging my soul. Or at least refreshing my G&T and recharging my kindle. 

Vacation vs Vocation (see what I did there?)  

You shouldn’t be thinking about marking or report writing or lesson plans… but I have a sneaking suspicion, if you are anything like me, you will anyway. So how about you give your practical brain a holiday and let your creative brain run wild instead? (To reaffirm, I teach English. Not Science. I may not know how brains actually work.)

We humans learn best when we engage all our senses. That’s why I always put so much thought into my classroom environment. And because I’ve already spent so much time on this topic, you don’t have to! 

So, here are my FIVE free tips for easily generating a creative and engaging classroom environment...

      1.     Turn your classroom into a gallery
Make a feature of your students’ own work. This tip is a triple whammy. You don’t have to dredge up any of your own creativity. You already possess everything you need. Best of all, your kids will feel a sense of pride at having their efforts displayed.

      2.     Press play to set the right tone
The way you set the scene for learning in your classroom might be overt, it might be covert. A sneaky tool to counteract any less-than-positive mindsets your students bring into the classroom is music. You can theme your soundtrack to your lesson or simply to the mood you choose to create.

3.     Get the conversation started
There’s nothing worse than a closemouthed classroom. Coaxing responses from quiet or disinterested kids can sometime feel like pulling teeth. Bypass the awkward silence every day by writing a new question or quote at the top of your board. The more provocative or challenging it is, the more debate and discussion it’s bound to prompt.

4.     Build a ‘Wonder-Wall’
If thinking of a new question every day feels a bit daunting, turn the tables and get your kids to do it instead! Get them involved; give them a space on your bulletin board to pin their own thoughts. It can be questions about the content you’re studying, or just general teenage musings on life…

5.     Bring your classroom to life
OK, so filling your classroom with plants isn’t technically ‘free’ but the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual benefits are invaluable. And it really doesn’t have to cost the Earth — you can even grow your own from cuttings. Simply having plants in our workspace improves our concentration, memory, mood, and creativity. What better way to bring life to your classes?!

If you are looking to invest in some incredible resources this summer, my fellow coffee-shop teachers are an endless source of inspiration — and they’re absolute lifesavers when my own creativity is running low. Check out some of their most beautiful and time-saving designs.
from Presto Plans
With twenty posters, each explaining a common question stem, this hardworking package is the perfect way to decorate your bulletin board AND prepare your students for standardized tests. It even comes with a long bulletin board title poster!

from Addie Williams
Set the tone for the new school year with these cute and concise mini-posters. Think of them as daily reminders of the kind of positive and productive space you want your classroom to be.

by The Classroom Sparrow
Encourage a dynamic learning environment by placing these mini-books around the room. If your students get stuck on a reading or writing task let them get up, reference the notes inside, and find the answer for themselves.

by the SuperHERO Teacher
Transform your classroom three ways with this all-inclusive triple bundle of bold and bright bulletin board decorations, posters, and organizers. You don’t need to choose between the Neon Decor, Novel Suggestions, or Student-Teacher Conference themes… because you get them all!  

by Room 213
Let’s be honest, the language of Shakespeare is not always the simplest to follow or understand. But these eye-catching posters break down all the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and translate them in a fun and memorable way.

by Nouvelle ELA
Getting your students to design their very own posters is a clever way to help them understand and remember the literary terms, dramatic vocabulary, and poetic devices you’re covering. You might be surprised at how creative they can be, given the opportunity.

by The Daring English Teacher
This bulletin board ‘quilt’ will not only look as pretty as your students can possibly make it, but it’s also a powerful tool to help shift their perception of their own growth — and come to view their learning positively.

by Secondary Sara
Classroom decor needs to be meaningful. Secondary Sara totally gets that, and her resource for getting students involved in selecting quotes from literature, finding the meaning in them and creating beautiful classroom displays is simply stunning.


I just love having versatile, always relevant art on the walls to point to, whether I’m teaching literature, poetry, or writing skills. So if you want to brighten up your classroom walls with easily accessible reminders of figurative language techniques, why not download my FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE POSTERS: 17 colorful printables, specially designed for Middle/High School classrooms.

So, now that we have that sorted, let’s just all get back to our G&Ts and Kindles, shall we?

Enjoy your Summer!

School's Out for Summer Teacher Challenge

Teaching is a wonderful and rewarding career. Despite grading papers after dinner, planning lessons on the weekends, and thinking about our students almost around the clock, we love what we do, and we keep going back year after year for more. Sure, it’s stressful, and yes, it’s tiring, but teaching calls to us. It was meant to be. And, something else that’s meant to be is summer vacation. We love summer break (possibly more than our students do), and it’s just what we need to keep going with all we’ve got once the next school year starts.
For teachers, summer is a time to kick back, relax, and prepare for the next school year. To help teachers make the most of their summer break, the Secondary English Coffee Shop ladies are hosting a School’s Out Teacher Challenge.

Starting Sunday, June 11, we will post a new summer challenge each week for 11 weeks. These School’s Out Teacher Challenges will focus on decompressing from a hectic school year, relishing every moment of summer vacation, and preparing for the best school year yet.

We encourage and invite all teachers, even if they are still in school or if they’ve already started their next school year, to join in on the fun.

To participate in the challenge, make sure you are following the Secondary English Coffee Shop on Instagram (@secondaryenglishcoffeeshop) and Facebook. Once we post that week’s challenge, you’ll have the entire week to take a picture of yourself completing the challenge, use the provided School’s Out Teacher Challenge frame, and post it on Instagram using the hashtag #SchoolsOutTeacherChallenge.

Addie Williams is looking forward to the challenge. She said, "I work really hard to maintain a life / work balance and so I'm super excited to be part of this challenge. Teachers work so hard to help others; I think it's important to take time to help each other and help ourselves unwind and connect."

Presto Plans recognizes all the hard work teachers put in during the year. She said, "Teachers are often such selfless people. I think these challenges will be the perfect way for teachers to flip the switch and make a conscious effort to focus on their own mental and physical health."

The SuperHERO Teacher is looking forward to connecting with others during the challenge. She said, "Because teaching is such a collaborative profession, it's exciting to come together in other ways outside of the classroom-- like how we debrief and celebrate our much deserved time."

The Daring English Teacher can't wait to see all of the posts teachers come up with during the challenge. She said, "Teachers work so hard during the year, that is is important to take some time to ourselves during the summer. It is so exciting to connect with teachers from all around the world during this challenge; I am eager to see how we relax and spend our time out of the classroom."

Nouvelle ELA knows that teachers' summers can sometimes slip by. She is excited for the challenge because she said, "Sometimes, I 'waste' my summer and it's gone before I know it! I'm excited for this challenge to create intentional moments of relaxation and reflection."

Stacey Lloyd is looking forward to celebrating with other teachers. She said, "This challenge is a wonderful way to harness the joy of social media: to connect with fellow teachers; to celebrate each other's moments of relaxation and rest; and to garner enthusiasm for the upcoming year."

Secondary Sara is excited for the challenge to begin. She said, "Anytime teachers can share ideas, stories, and inspiration is a win-win for everyone, and this is such a unique way to get the best of all worlds this summer."

Room 213 is ready for the challenge. She said, "Summer is not just 'time off' for teachers; it's necessary recharging time so we can be the best we can be for our students in the fall. This challenge will be a fun way to focus on things for you, from time with friends, great books, and delicious foods. I can't wait to see all the ways that teachers will embrace summer."

The Classroom Sparrow is looking forward to connecting with other teachers. She said, "I think summer is the perfect time for a teacher challenge because we can actually focus on ourselves and our plans for next year, without having to worry about marking and prepping for our classes. I am exited about the challenge because I enjoy connecting with different teachers from all over. I know this challenge is doing to inspire me to do and try new things that have been on my 'to-do' list for quite some time."

We truly feel that this will be such a fun way to connect with other teachers during the summer months, and we hope you join us.
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