In This Post:
- The excitement and frustrations of returning back to school after break.
- Some tips to help ease your students (and yourself) back into the routine and rigor of school.
- Ideas to start the new year and keep the great learning going until summer!
“Welcome back! Hope your time off was great! Mindset is everything! Smile more! We’re glad you’re here!”
These are some of the things you might hear after winter break walking past my classroom.
With that said, getting back into a routine is hard. I know a quick shift in words, body language, and mindset will make a world of difference for me and my students. I try to model this as often as I can. They deserve to see an adult who chooses to show up for herself and her students. I chose this career and all the ups and downs that come with it.
I hope that you are able to find joy in whatever it is that you do to disconnect, reconnect, or have fun during your time off. You deserve this break, and I hope you spend it doing all the things that make you happy. Personally, I try to divide my time between hanging out by myself, hanging out with my people, and prepping for the next few months.The reality is that if you aren’t your best, your students’ learning experience is at stake. Click To Tweet
I always feel like the Monday after break feels just a little like the first day of school. Some of the thoughts that go through my head are things like:
- “What should we do?”
- “What shouldn’t we do?”
- “I don’t want to overwork them.”
- “But I want to maintain my expectations.”
While not an expert, after six years I have found what works for me when getting back into the swing of things. Here’s a few tips to help recharge yourself and your students after winter break.
After Break Tip #1: Make it work for you.
Do your best not to over-book yourself. Keep your schedule light for at least the first week. Go home early. Schedule more time for activities that make your soul happy. Doesn’t need to be anything outrageous, but do your thing. This will help your routine fall back into place.
After Break Tip #2: Welcome your students back as people.
Recognize and appreciate the changes they will bring back. Give them some grace when they test your patience. Try not to ask about gifts from the holidays. Ask about a favorite day or activity from time off.
After Break Tip #3: Revisit expectations – set new norms together.
Reflect together about what worked well and what needs to change from first semester. Remind of (or establish) the culture of feedback in the room. What are teacher and student expectations? What should we do when expectations aren’t being met?
After Break Tip #4: Plan activities that circle back to seeing students as people.
This could be dependent on the level and content you teach. I teach 7th grade ELA, so these are some ideas that my students and I have created over the past few years.
Goal setting or at least making it a point of conversation. I try and ask students what they want me to hold them accountable for.
Writing/speaking affirmations related to the time we spend together. “This month I will… This semester I will… ” There’s value in writing and speaking an affirmation (will) instead of a goal. We post these inside or outside of the room and talk about them.
Make paper snowflakes and have students write down words on the snowflake. Words could be character descriptors, goals, words to remember, etc. I hang them in a large mural outside the room with a title of “Be you.” One of my favorites.
Writing + mini-speeches. I try to get kids back to speaking, listening, thinking, reading, and writing as soon as possible. The way to do that is to get students up, literally on their feet, talking, listening, inquiring, writing, and reading about thoughts and topics they are interested in.
After Break Tip #5: Try something new for yourself.
Over break find the thing (strategy, project, research, idea, etc.) that you want to try out. Give it your all. It will help you to find something new to focus on and be excited about. The reality is, we try more than one new thing throughout the year. But I challenge you to devote yourself to something you are really interested in. I am stoked to actually, finally, customize learning paths for my kids.[scroll down to keep reading]
After Break Tip #6: Focus on the essentials.
What are the things students must do? What can you save for later? Try to eliminate the busy work, but find valuable learning opportunities for students to invest their time in. How can we re-ignite curiosity and rigor in the classroom? A student-planned unit, perhaps?
In past years, I have found myself returning from breaks frustrated that students weren’t working to the potential I expected. I hope you will be able to take one or two of these tips to shift your mindset just a bit. This winter break, in the months following, and really always, I challenge you to devote extra care to yourself and your students. The reality is this, if you aren’t your best, your students’ learning experience is at stake. Let’s do this!
ABOUT KENDALL LAWSON
Kendall Lawson is a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher at Kaneland Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove, Illinois. Over the past six years Kendall has worked to transform her classroom into a place where students can learn, excel, and grow at their own pace. Through this she has learned how critical it is to be a transparent, equitable, and authentic educator. She credits reflection, collaboration, and risk-taking as key components to help redefine her role as a Middle Level Educator.