I always give this advice to my first year teachers when they are entering a crucial phase of the year (and which one is not?): “Think about how you feel right now going to work every day. Now imagine your students feeling probably the same…to the power of 2 because, well,… they are kids! Now you have a good idea of how to best prepare for them tomorrow”.
How does this apply to this crazy time of year, between the end of Thanksgiving break and the beginning of winter break (only 3 weeks away!!)? Well, let’s be honest and lay out some of the thoughts we may all be having today:
- How can this break have gone so fast?
- I need a vacation to recover from all this cooking/eating/shopping…
- All these holidays related movies/commercials/songs make me nostalgic and impatient
- How many teaching days left already?
- Could it snow tomorrow so I can finish my lesson plans I started writing today…
I went through these 5 thoughts in the last few days whereas you know, if you read this blog or work with me, how passionate I am about my job. I wouldn’t do anything else in the world, but it is simply human nature to have these thoughts after a short break and right before a longer one.
Now think about our elementary or middle school students coming back tomorrow. Could you imagine them with the same thoughts magnified by the childhood lens? Knowing this, how can you best prepare for the three weeks ahead? Here are 3 precious tips that have never failed to help me in the last 15 years:
1. Set some concrete goals for you and your students, achievable in the next 3 weeks
The risk during this time of year is that you and your students might delay any major improvement for the beginning of 2014. You are too tired, they are exhausted, let’s cruise through. That is the recipe for a long and unproductive stretch of classes. Instead greet your students right away tomorrow with energy and help them set some short term goals to finish 2013 strong. Here is a 20 minute presentation I created for our students tomorrow. It is meant to be energizing and funny. Of course, feel free to steal some ideas!
Make sure goals are both ambitious and manageable and inform your students that you will help them stay true to their words. It could be improving on a concept that was hard before the break, getting extra credit assignments done or challenging themselves to try a “spicy” activity online or in class every day. Do not be afraid to have them post these goals on a “Finish Strong” bulletin board in the class. Share also with the class what your personal goals are and ask them to hold you accountable for reaching them!
2. Take nothing for granted, be ready to celebrate small progress every day
Once you have laid out this foundation, be ready to notice, acknowledge and celebrate progress toward their goals right away. The dynamic of a class can at times mirror the one of an old couple. As soon as you take for granted great things students do every day, you stop noticing them and you launch a negative spiral focused solely on their shortcomings. This is true at any time of the school year but it is even more vital in the next 3 weeks: Multiply opportunities and ways to celebrate student improvement. If you were making 5 positive phone calls a week before, shoot for 5 a day right now. Your kids and parents will notice and it will help them and you cross the finish line happier and stronger.
3. Embrace the moment rather than trying to fight it
We have all been this teacher one day who pledged nothing remotely close to candy or a costume should be seen on Halloween day. How did this turn out for us? Instead, embrace the moment with your students. They are feeling excited because it is a time of year they love. There is nothing wrong about this. What elements of this spirit can you infuse in your activity? They are impatient for a break during which playing will be the main focus for two weeks. It would be a great time then to bring more games into play during your class! Enjoy the moment and have them learn through!
These 3 tips have always helped me and my students re-focus and finish the school year strong. I would love to hear what your tips are to do more than survive this crazy season of teaching.