Savannah, a current Possip reporter and former educator, shares tips for teachers returning back to school for the Spring semester!
Five Tips for Back to School This New Year
The days of sleeping in, eating sugary treats, and binge-watching Netflix are almost behind us. Soon, students will be filling the school hallways and classrooms as back-to-school resumes. Going back to school after an elongated break can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be!
It’s also a wonderful opportunity to reset with your students by revisiting classroom norms, setting aside time for reflection, and helping students with intentional goal setting. Additionally, taking the time to reflect rather than jumping straight into the curriculum will help establish trust with your students. From my own experience, the human-centered, holistic approach yields higher buy-in and motivation from students because they feel invested in.
Here are five tips and ideas for coming back to school this January:
1️⃣ New Years Reflections
Rather than making New Year’s Resolutions, consider writing New Year’s Reflections with your students. Here is an example I used with my 11th and 12th graders, but this could easily be adapted for younger students as well. My advice is not to assign this as homework, even though it’s tempting to! Instead, take the time out of daily instruction to work on this. This will show students that this really is a priority for you.
Consider completing this worksheet yourself and using it as an exemplar. Encourage, but do not require, students to share out in a safe and community-centered environment where students feel comfortable and heard. Choose one of the prompts, and ask students to record their answers on a notecard or sticky note. Hang these on a bulletin board, or somewhere where students can see them as a means of personal accountability. Spend time revisiting these reflections throughout the remainder of the school year.
2️⃣ Ease Into January
While it’s tempting to jump right into curriculum, it’s important to provide space for students, and yourself, to transition back into the school year. If possible, avoid heavy homework loads and spend time revisiting classroom norms and expectations. Transparently share your own goals and hopes with your students and ask them if these goals feel achievable and appropriate. If you are noticing student fatigue throughout the day, provide opportunities for brain breaks and socialization / community building. In the moment, it might feel like you’re “wasting time,” but you’re not! This intentional resetting will greatly pay-off and set the tone for the new year.
Here is an article to provide you steps on how to ease into January!
3️⃣ Set Goals and Intentions
Help students create academic goals and intentions for themselves. These goals should be measurable and achievable. Encourage students to share their goals with a peer, family member, or teacher to help hold them accountable. Consider making a class goal, or set of goals, as well to promote community building and collaboration.
4️⃣ Provide Socialization Time
After spending a significant time away from school, it’s natural for students to want to connect. However, the nature of COVID has also changed this a bit, and has caused students to become more isolated. Teachers are seeing that students are having a difficult time collaborating academically with other students, or even just socializing.
Create structured time for students to connect with one another. Perhaps it’s a restorative circle, or a ten minute weekly class check-in. For a more creative approach, write a handful of age-appropriate and inclusive questions on a ball and ask students to pass the ball around the room. Whatever question the student lands on when they catch it is the question they are encouraged to answer. While providing students time to connect is important, just make sure it’s structured and purposeful so that it will in turn be meaningful.
5️⃣ Revisit Communication Norms
As a former teacher, I remember how difficult it was to keep up with my own family and student communication goals. Year after year I would tell myself that I would communicate with ten families weekly and hold regular student writing conferences. However, as the school year progressed and I became more overwhelmed and exhausted, this dream rarely lasted for more than a couple of weeks, until I approached it more strategically.
Consider creating a student communication tracker individually or with your grade level team. Ask students to write down their family’s emails, phone numbers, the best time to reach them, the best way to reach them, and home language. Once you have this information, mindfully communicate with families. You might send out a monthly newsletter or family email, then track which families you’ve connected with. Block time out on your calendar so you prioritize this! Revisit and rework your communication goal as needed throughout the semester.
Possip’s staff really does hope you’ve enjoyed your winter break and are looking forward to the new semester! Hopefully, these ideas spark some excitement as you think about returning to school with your students. Overall, choose mindful practices that will allow your students and yourself an opportunity to slow down and ease into the new year with intention.