January is a peculiar time of year: almost reminiscent of the excited energy of September but without feeling nearly as refreshed. As soon as they’ve clinked a glass of bubbly into the new year, Teacher Brains shoot to the ambitious list of projects, grading, materials prep, research, and lists of pleasure reading… all relatively untouched. But, odds are the sleep’s been better and Netflix goals have been met, and there’s a sense of calm -even confidence- hovering like a halo.
January, too, can be a wonky time for students. For some, it means leaving the safety and security of their school homes. For others, it means relishing in a break from their daily grind and soaking up some rays. For some, it means endless boredom and/or too many video games. And for some, it’s a time to set new goals and think about how they can improve in the new year.
Ultimately, for both teachers and students, the return from winter break is an opportunity.
It’s a time to think about what norms (the good and the bad) have been cultivated. It might be time to ask some hard questions, such as:
- What systems do you have in place in your classroom? Which are awesome, and which could be tweaked or trashed?
- What’s on the walls? Is it relevant and inspiring; or just filling space?
- Have you been consistent with praise, feedback, and discipline?
And, above all, it’s a fantastic (even necessary) time to cultivate community, re-establish norms, and work with your class to ensure a productive, happy spring in your classroom.
Here are some 4 ideas to kick-off community-building in January:
Classroom report cards.
Not sure about what’s going well and what’s not (and therefore, what to keep or scrap)? Ask! Student input is valuable because it reminds students that their thoughts and participation are essential to classroom culture (it is!). Some ideas for a classroom report card should include a reflection on what students like, what students would change, how they might characterize it, and what their individual input has been. This activity is huge in tone-setting for the second half of the year, re-establishing expectations, and catching sloppy or bad habits before they start.
Students want to talk about their break! They want to engage with people around them, and sometimes they need a bit of guidance as to what and how much is appropriate to share, as well as when. Meet students with this need with a contained activity. Generate 5-7 questions that seem appropriate, bearing in mind some students may see much more instability during their school breaks and there can be a vast difference in decadence over break. Avoid asking students questions that could further divide them, in favour of questions that can unite them back at school.
Here are a few to get you started:
- What is one thing that made you laugh on your break?
- Share about a time that was boring on your break.
- Tell us about one person you interacted with on your break.
- What is the best thing you ate on your break?
- What time did you usually go to bed/wake up on your break?
- What did you miss most/least about school?
Using these questions, arrange students in a couple of groups of 2 concentric circles. Students on the inside of the circle will face out, while students on the outside will face inward. Students pair up and have 30-seconds to 1-minute each to answer the question. You can have students interview one another and jot notes, or complete it verbally. Speed dating is a great, simple activity for students to tune into one another and see each other as critical voices. If you teach a class after lunch/recess, this is a great way to cull the energy.
Some students may naturally see the start of a new semester as an opportunity to improve habits and embrace a fresh start, but most will likely be preoccupied with other things that come with the start of a new year. Give students the time and space to think about their successes in the first semester. If you did a goal-setting activity in September, this is a great time to revisit, celebrate, and revise!
If goal-setting is new to your student, you might introduce them to SMART Goal-setting, an effective template for achieving goals:
Goal-setting can happen in a wide variety of formats, but students are more likely to be excited on their goal if they can present and share their goals publicly with pride. Make a public space in the classroom or hallway for goals and create a time for students to present their goals outloud, either in small groups, or to the whole class. Get creative and think about what works best with your group of kids! A few ideas to consider:
- Head-Hands-Heart Goal: Have students set a Head Goal (an academic goal), Hands Goal (a skill-based goal), and a Heart Goal (community-related). Write these on body cut-outs and hang them up!
- 5-Finger Goals: have students trace their hands and come up with 5 goals they’ll work towards this semester
- Post-It Subject Goals: If you teach multiple subjects with one class, create a sign for each subject and have students write a goal for each subject. Make sure they sign their name!
- Doodle Goals: This fun and free resource from The Math Giraffe emphasizes the process of goal-setting and affords structure.
- Goal Journals: Have students generate 1-3 goals in their personal journal, reflecting on why they want to achieve these goals and what they’ll have to do (habits!) in order to achieve them. This is a great way exercise to encourage students to frequently revisit and document their progress towards their goals.
It is worth noting all goal-setting should not be a one-and-done activity. It is important to revisit goals (first week of the month works well) and chart progress.
It’s probable students operated far out of the norm of their usual school routine while on holidays– including what they ate, activity levels during the day, bedtimes (and no alarm clocks). Getting back to early wake-ups, a regimented schedule, homework (oh, those mean teachers!), and perhaps a junk food detox is tough for kids! By the end of the first week, kids (and maybe teachers) are pooped! To reinforce that a classroom is more than just a place of post-holiday-break torture, highlight community with some fun at the start or end of class!
Minute-To-Win-It challenges are a fantastic way to get students moving, talking, interacting, and even having a bit of fun! Chica Circle offers some low-mess, minimal-prep, high-fun options with ample visuals and video tutorials (in case you’ve forgotten how to have fun ;):
Since all challenges are a minute, they also don’t take up too much class time, and I urge you to see these precious minutes as investments. When students feel connected, engaged, and supported, they are more likely to participate
However you decide to approach your January, embrace it. So rarely are we given the chance to reset, reinvest, and rejuvenate. Take full advantage and find that vigor that comes to naturally in September– it’s still in there somewhere 🙂