One of the many reasons why teaching is the best career in the world is the break around the holidays. Not only is it a great chance for teachers to relax and connect with family, but it is also a time for reflection and action. In very few other job fields are you given the chance to completely change the trajectory of how your year is going over the course of 2 weeks. Great teachers act and develop a plan for success in the second half of the year in between holiday shopping and cookie eating. We get this time off, lets not waste all of it. Below are 10 tips for recharging during the holidays designed for rookie and veteran teachers alike!
1. Do nothing related to school for 3 days.
This usually means taking a Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off from anything related to school or education. Go find something fun to do, let your brain relax, splurge, drink too much, sleep too little (or sleep in until 1:00pm), eat 100 hot wings, read for pleasure, whatever, just be sure to do what you want. Sending your mind and body a clear signal that you are on a break will start the rejuvenation!
2. Set up a winter break routine.
After no structure for 3 days it is time to set up a routine or schedule for break. This will ensure that you don’t spend 5 hours every day like a blob watching TV or wasting valuable break time. I chunk out my day with a to do list and I bookend my days with a morning and evening routine. I devote time each day to exercise, meditation, reading, and even daily chores around the house. I plan all of this in my personal journal although there are many other methods to plan a day. Make sure to still do fun things, a plan doesn’t have to be all business, it just ensures that there is time for both business and pleasure. There is nothing worse than reaching the end of break feeling like nothing got done and you are still tired!
3. Health! Health! Health!
My first three year of teaching I spent all break eating as much bad food as I could, I was a cookie monster, fudge eater, roast beef fiend, and over-drinker. Again after the first 3 days it is time to refocus and set up a plan for success. Eating fruits and vegetables and incorporating a healthy diet will, in the end, make your break more enjoyable.
I also recommend exercising, with the amount of time that is free over break waking up early to exercise is much easier than during the school year. Getting a light jog in before the day starts will set you up for a successful day. Exercise elevates your endorphins making you a happier person and it also is a great way to keep off
Meditate or reflect on life. This is exercise for your brain, I choose to write in a journal but there are many other methods such as yoga, prayer, or simply an online guided mediation. I always feel so good after my reflection and mediation time. It puts the world into perspective and reminds you of who you are.
4. Read at least one professional book..
Pick one that a colleague recommended or a book that provides a new perspective on education. Part of being a professional is being well versed in what other professionals are doing in the field of education. I find that, often times, reading over break lights a fire in me and makes me want to try new techniques in the new semester. Also I find that while reading I have much of what I already do in the classroom reaffirmed by the author. Some books to try if you haven’t read them yet, The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer, Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov, or Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire by Rafe Esquith.
5. Make lists!
Make a list of things you did well in the last semester. Reflect on how you will tweak these or maintain them in the coming semester. After the good, make a list of the bad, list all things that didn’t go well or that you would change for next semester. These could be management pieces or academic pieces, it really doesn’t matter as long as you are recognizing that they need to be changed. The beauty of break is that the kids turn off for two weeks too, they come back and are ready to accept new methods or management techniques that would have been hard to implement during the semester.
6. Pick one thing from your “bad” list.
Pick the one thing that you want to do better next semester or that you want to change in your classroom for next semester. Pick something that you really believe is standing in the way of educating your students. If you take the list as a whole it is too big, by picking one we make it manageable. Create a game plan for tackling the issue that you picked.
When I first started teaching my class would come in like a pack of wild animals! It set a horrible tone for the class I went home over break and created a plan, when I returned from break I would have assigned seats and a method for entering class that wasn’t so chaotic. If students didn’t meet my expectation we would practice entering the room until we got it right. I worked on this until it was how I liked it then I picked another element from my “bad” list. Slowly but surely the kids came around and class was much more effective.
7. Plan a re-boot for the first days back.
Kids, especially young ones, need and thrive on routines. For many kids the holidays are fun and relaxing, but for many they are not. They lack structure and discipline over break and this creates an anxiety for some kids. Some kids might not have any parents at home during break and they are free to do what they want. Resetting expectations and doing some class or team building during the first 3 days back in class can really go a long way in having a successful second semester.
8. Create a skeleton plan for the semester.
Later during the break I like to set up a “skeleton” plan for the semester. This is just a bare bones look ahead at to what we will be learning. I start with the standards that need to be taught and start thinking of potential lessons or activities that fit. Do not get overly into details of the lessons, you may not want to do the same lesson or you may decide it doesn’t fit anymore. It would be a shame to waste precious time creating a full lesson that does not get used. This plan makes me feel like I am in control of where we are going, lessons end up being more purposeful and students get more learning done.
9. Set up a post-winter break routine.
Just like when you set up a routine for winter break, it is crucial to set up a daily routine for after break. Over the two weeks of winter break your body gets used to your new routine and it can be hard to transition back to school. For me, I keep similar bookends but the time slots for these plans change dramatically. I also have to adjust the time spent doing things purely for fun because there is less time to work with. Setting up a plan or routine helps reduce the anxiety of returning to the classroom.
You are prepared! Dominate this next semester, you are a professional and you can do it!
English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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