As you are starting the new year off and heading back to school after a long winter break, you want to make sure it's done right, so take the time to handle some much-needed items in your classroom. Teacher materials may need reorganization, classroom routines may need a redo, and your students will definitely benefit from a refresher. I've compiled my years of experience into this blog post which I hope will get your new year headed in the right direction.
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Starting the New Year by Organizing your Teaching Life
When headed back after winter break, the schools I worked in routinely had a couple of days of professional development before the students showed up. Usually, one of those days was taken up by meetings, planning, and new requirements and procedures, but one was given to us to work in our rooms and accomplish what we needed to before the semester got rolling. Here's what I recommend for that day.
1. Declutter your classroom
Go through your cabinets, closets, and shelves and make it a priority to start fresh and clean. Get rid of old papers, books you're not going to use, those old VCR tapes that can't be put into any of the televisions at school, dead markers, glue sticks with no caps, and your well-intentioned snacks you're never going to actually open. Look for ways to re-purpose or reorganize your materials to get the most bang for your buck and definitely don't forget to go through your desk or teaching table too. Next, hit up your file cabinets and desk. Pare down, reorganize, and shift things around so that items you use all the time are within easy reach. If you need to, move your furniture around as well.
2. Prepare your planner
If you didn't complete it at the beginning of the year, go through your planner and finish writing in all the dates, upcoming events, scheduled meetings, testing days, and long-range plans for the semester. Make sure you also get all those holidays and PD days penciled in as well. Get as much of the first month planned out as you can now because those first days back are long and exhausting getting used to routines and schedules all over again. Build in that grace you know you'll need. If you're at all like me, I love using stickers in my planner, and I have these teacher stickers to mark all the school functions going on throughout the year.
3. Leave time for copying
Lastly, make sure you leave time to copy all the things you'll need for as long as you have planned or mapped out. Don't forget those things you know you'll need down the road. Just remember to put them where you'll remember them. More than once I've copied things over because I couldn't find or remember what I had done with the copies I had made, or I just plain forgot I copied them at all.
Reflect on Your Systems and Routines
Another way to start the new year off right is to take a moment or two and reflect on the first semester.
Are there routines in your classroom that need some reorganization?
Are there new systems you need to put in place?
What can you do to build morale, introduce more writing, encourage more teamwork, develop a passion for reading, set up more time for practice, or whatever it is that you want to accomplish with your kids and your class?
If you weren't brainstorming and dreaming up ideas over the second half of break, which is usually when my brain started to kick back in, take some time and some quiet space now to think about your true goals and objectives and how you can maximize potential and reach new heights. It sounds cliché, but the new year is the perfect time to reevaluate and make new goals. Once you've decided on what you want to accomplish, begin to make the plans to make those goals obtainable. This will probably take up the majority of your day.
If you're struggling with ways in which to set a positive classroom culture, I've got you covered in this blog post. Although written from the first of the year perspective, it has ideas and tips you can implement at any time to help you make a positive transformation in your room.
Also, for those who struggle with classroom organization or those dreaded seating charts, I have a couple of blog posts to help you in those areas as well. If there's something else, let me know in the comments, and I'll see what assistance I can give you.
Start the New Year by Giving Students a Refresher
1. Connect with the Students
When the students get back, don't dig in and get going too fast. Take some time to connect about what they need to talk about. Some might have had a great break, but others may have been longing for the security and structure of school. Allow a chance for those who need to talk to you to do so, and make sure you're aware of those who seem to have something to say but are too shy or concerned to voice it in class. Check-in with them later, when you can, one-on-one. Also, let the students have a moment to decompress from the holidays, prepare for the new year, and evaluate where they want to head as well.
2. Tour the Room
Give the kids a tour of what's new and different. Perhaps during your reorganization you restructured their supply area. Did you get any new furniture or decor items over break? Maybe you're introducing a new behavior management technique or system. If so, take time to explain it, how it will work, the benefits of it, where they can monitor their progress, and more. This shouldn't take long but it helps to set expectations, new procedures, and alleviates surprises down the road.
3. Review the Basics
Also make sure to take time to review important rules, procedures, and routines. We can all forget what side is up over break, so try not to assume that the kids will just remember how to accomplish things. Set them up for success by giving them some time for this important crash course. It will also greatly help any students who moved over the break and are new to your school or classroom.
4. Make the Last Moment Count
Finally, leave time to bond with your kids as they depart from your room. There's a lot of discussion about morning greetings, in fact, I have a blog post here where you can read more and get a freebie if you're interested, but I don't think enough is said about sending off our students right as well. Give them a high five, a fist bump, or a handshake as they set to leave. Send them off with some encouraging or motivating words. Let those kids who need it, know you'll connect with them later. This sending-off time gives teachers a unique and important opportunity to have one more moment and impact on each student's life. How cool is that!
Seeing the Fruits of Your Labor
Hopefully, when all this is said and done and you're a few days into the new semester, you'll realize the fruits of your labor and be glad for your new approach, outlook, and daily inspiration. If not, keep at it. New habits take at least 21 days to take hold, and it can be difficult to start a new procedure or management technique. The great stuff always takes time!
I hope you have a wonderful semester ahead of you.