The holiday break is our longest during the school year—an approximately two-week flurry of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. A time to relax, recharge, and gather ourselves for the long slow march toward state-mandated testing in the spring.
I’ve always found January to be the start of my most favorite time in the classroom. The expectations are known, centers have been taught, and I have a solid understanding of my students. I feel that this two-week hiatus ensures that the rest of the winter months going into spring are productive. While I am busy imagining new resolutions for my personal life, I also allow a moment to breathe and reflect on the successes and the failures of the fall term. I have found several themes that I visit each year:
- Organization: This is my constant area of struggle—I easily become buried by my list of things to do. To combat this, I have developed some simple strategies. I make a list before I leave at the end of the school day detailing what I must do in the morning. This keeps me on track and productive in my early morning pre-second-cup-of-coffee haze. I don’t allow myself to leave on Friday until everything for Monday is ready, giving myself the gift of starting the week as stress-free as possible. It also clears my mind so that the weekend is free from a cloud of worry and I can fully focus on my family. Lastly, I always carry a pen with me. This ensures that any forms or papers placed in my box can be filled or signed and returned without it even touching my desk.
- Struggling Students: At this point of the year, I have found my students who need extra support and remediation. By giving myself one day, or even just a couple of hours, in the classroom over the break, I can really examine the data and develop a comprehensive reteach and pre-teach strategy to incorporate into my day. This time also allows me to re-examine my guided teaching groups, adjusting the size and time per group as needed. I begin to lean heavily on whole-group mini lessons and dedicating much of my lesson time to these small groups and enriching centers. I also re-evaluate my entire schedule looking for wasted time. I bring out my trusty timer as school resumes, as I am my own worst enemy in allowing mini lessons to creep into something more.
- Behavioral Problems: We all have one to two students we are happy to send off on their holiday break because of their challenging behaviors in the classroom. Each year, I resolve to spend a moment every day in January finding something positive that these students have done. This benefits my own mental outlook and provides for an avenue of positive interaction with the students. Each year, I am surprised that this simple action has rippled effects throughout my day and the whole classroom environment. I am less prone to being cranky, and these students will begin to have more “good” days than “bad” ones.
Lastly, guard your time fiercely—it is your most precious resource in the classroom. From prep to execution, always ask: Is it worth the time? How much benefit will my students see from this? Be weary of long hours at the laminator and paper cutter or copier. Many fun center games can be played with dice, cards, and dominoes, or be created by your gifted students to extend and challenge their learning.
I encourage you all to take a moment to find one resolution for your classroom. Be sure to make it small at first, feel success, and then perhaps grow it into something more. The New Year is my favorite time in the classroom: A chance to revamp, revisit, and renew the excitement in myself and in my students.
What’s your resolution for 2019? Let us know in the comments below! And for more teaching inspiration all year long, be sure to subscribe to the Educator blog.