A new year, and yet another chance to get it right. Another chance to be the teacher they'll always remember, and to have the class that will stay in your heart for the rest of your life. Wait, what? You're dreading your return to school, worried about an unruly class of kids who have forgotten "how we do things around here", worried that they'll never settle in enough to pack in all the standards that you will need to cover before the next round of testing, or just worried that the peace and serenity that you found over break is about to crumble before your eyes. I've heard teachers talking about all that. Really. In many ways, the January return is just as anxiety-producing as the first day of a new school year. We've all just had too much time to get really used to not doing school.
Here are some resolution suggestions to help you and your students ease back in!
The Gift of Time
Time! Don't you wish you had more of it? So do I, and so do your students! Why not resolve to schedule some more choices into your day. I know! You don't have time! Right? I seriously always found that the time added to give kids a voice and a choice in activities was easily made up by subtracting the time I might have had to use to wait for the class to pay attention, stop talking, or just settle in.
Try giving your students a little more time in the day to read. Just read. Any book they choose, without a book report or reading log dangling from the edge of it. Just some time to indulge themselves as readers. You just might build a beautiful lifelong habit here!
Have you tried Genius Hour or any type of Project Based Learning yet? You could resolve to stretch your students' brains with a little more open-ended and less time-urgent work this month. They just might amaze you with all they can be motivated to learn!
Do your kids enter talking and keep it up all day long? Try surprising them with an occasional "conversational opportunity" during the school day - a time when it's a-ok to just talk with each other. Walk around and listen. Awesome sauce amazement!
The Gift of Kindness
Do you wish that your students were kinder to each other and maybe even to you? Why not make the teaching of kindness a standard for your classroom community? Infuse it in your lessons by finding examples of kindness as a theme in reading novels, biographies, and in studying current events. Find or write some math story problems in which the theme is kindness. (Hmmm... I think I'll do that myself!)
Remember to model kindness too. Please don't ever be afraid that another teacher or an administrator will think that you are being "too easy" on your class or that you are weak as a teacher because you are too kind. Been there. Heard that. My thirty six years of classroom experience tells affirms that you can never be too kind. Never. How can choosing to let other human beings know that you care about them and are there for them be wrong?
Talk about acts of kindness every day, maybe at a morning meeting, or just in passing as you notice them. In a kindness-focused classroom, the noticing will become more and more frequent over time!
The Gift of Peace
Aaah... Peace! Remember: You in your pjs or yoga pants, your coffee or tea or hot chocolate, the fire softly sighing in the background, soft music playing... CLASSROOM NOISE!!!!!! Ugh, back to reality! Well, maybe not. Why not try to recreate a little of that peace in the immediate environment of your classroom every day? Play some soft music while kids are working. Use music for your transitions. You might even bring up a screen saver fireplace video on one of your classroom computers. Remember to have a thermos of a warming and soothing drink that you enjoy, and let the kids have a thermos of their favorite on their desks. (Spillproof please! Contigo makes some inexpensive and great ones.)
Here's an idea you might or might not have tried yet. Speak in a very soft voice. Even when your class is talking loudly all around you at first. Watch the fun as they strain to hear, nudge each other to listen, and then just focus in on what you're saying. Even if you think this is nonsense, how will you ever really know unless you give it a try? So many kids only know one volume level. They hear it at home, and they hear it all around them every day at school. Show them that the volume level is adjustable, and they have the power to turn it down.
Try bringing the elements of peace you have at home into the space where you spend most of your waking hours each day. Try a yoga break, a breathing break, or a short meditation time. Before you know it, school just might not be the place you need a break from. It might be yet another peaceful spot in your life.
The Gift of Safety
Everyone needs to feel safe and secure in the space where they are. Kids who feel threatened and under stress can't learn. You need to provide a safe zone within your classroom. You can do that by making sure your kids feel that they are noticed and heard and respected and cared for. Give them a voice. Show them that things happen WITH them, not TO them.
Make sure that your students feel safe in expressing their opinions and feel safe answering questions, even if they aren't really sure they have the exactly right answer. They need to feel safe to explore learning and new ways of thinking and looking at things.
Home and neighborhood aren't the safest-feeling places for many of our kids. Make sure you know who your kids are and what challenges they find outside of your classroom. Then provide that place for them where they will feel safe and valued.
The Gift of Significance
Ownership. Authorship. Knowing that the work that you do is important and that it matters. This is a resolution that you can make today and give as a gift to your students every day. Frustrated that kids rush through assignments, turn them in looking sloppy, often with no name on it? You might want to try finding ways to lessen the paper load. Find some other ways for kids to respond: discussion, graffiti boards, individual and group performances, computer work. When people believe that work is valued and important, they don't forget to put their name on it. They're proud to announce that it is theirs!
Don't forget to celebrate the achievements of your kids often. When planning a unit, make sure that you add a plan for how you will celebrate the works produced by your students. Will you invite parents/community in to view your work, will you have a panel presentation, set up a fair, will kids make videos for students in future years to view, or will you invite another (perhaps younger) class in to be an audience? Celebrating at the end of unit is a great way to pause and say, "Hey! Your work has significance! You have made a contribution! Thank you!"
The Gift of Wisdom
Finally, you can resolve to give your students and yourself the gift of wisdom this year. Wisdom is an elusive and slippery little creature. You won't ever hear its soft voice unless your mind is quieted and you are listening carefully. Acquiring wisdom takes time and reflection. We can't stuff our heads full of facts and equations expect to emerge with wisdom.
You can share this gift with your class by offering plenty of reflective time for the lessons you are teaching. If you haven't tried Interactive Notebooks yet, this might be a good time. Just please, please, please make sure that your Interactive Notebooks are truly interactive. They really shouldn't even be about cutting and gluing. (Although that's the first vision that comes to mind for most teachers when they hear the term "Interactive Notebook". Admit it - that's the vision you had just now, too!) Don't make you Interactive Notebooks cutesy fill the blanks and color receptacles. Make them a place to collect valuable notes on the lesson, and then a space for reflection and individual responses to the learning. Time + Quiet Reflection = Wisdom.
Here are some resource suggestions to support your use of any of these gifts this year!
I hope you found an idea or two here to make your New Year even better! Wishing you a year ahead filled with all the joy that makes you remember why you chose to be a teacher!
For more ideas to make your January easier, cozier, and filled with learning, be sure to check out these bloggers talking about teaching.