Well, I'm sure many of you have started already, but my holiday break officially begins tomorrow afternoon. I know as a good teacher and mommy blogger I'm supposed to tell you to focus on your family, relax and recharge, and don't even think about school over the holiday break. I plan to do (almost) all of those things and I encourage you to do the same. But the reality is, these longer breaks are the perfect opportunity to complete some tasks for your teaching that require a more relaxed frame of mind and some uninterrupted blocks of time. Because we all know that doesn't happen during the work week! So yes, focus on your family, take some time to relax, but make your teaching life a little more relaxed too by going through this task list, at your leisure of course, over the holiday break.
1. Create a long-range plan for your classes from now until the end of the school year
(or if you are on a January-December school year, from now until the next long break). I make year-long plans for every class I teach over the summer (read about that process in more detail here). Over the holiday break, I take stock of where I am and make adjustments to my original plan so that I make sure we cover everything before the end of the school year.
When I make the year-long plans I am making them without knowing what each class is going to be like. Although I know most of my students from the previous year, the way a class as a whole is able to learn in class is affected by more than individual personalities- so much depends on the homeroom teacher, the particular mix of students in a classroom, the time of day that the class meets, and other factors. Not to mention the new students that are added to the mix and the ways that personalities change and (hopefully) mature over time. Now that I have a better feel for how my classes actually learn, I can go back and make a more realistic plan for how to effectively teach the skills and concepts that need to be covered before the end of the year.
If you didn't start the year with long-range plans, don't fret! Go back and read my post on long-range plans. Take stock of what you have done so far this year and go from there. Trust me, you will feel much more confident that your kids are learning what they need to learn by starting with a long-range plan!
2. Reflect on your classroom culture/ behavior management
It is so, so difficult to take time to reflect, in a meaningful way, on your teacher practice in the middle of the school year. You need some distance to get the necessary perspective, and with the hectic pace we keep during the year it is next to impossible to get any distance whatsoever. Breaks are the perfect time for some reflection for this very reason! I always spend some time reflecting on what is and is not working well to create a healthy and vibrant classroom culture in all of my classes. 2 years ago that meant making a complete transformation of my behavior management systems (read about all of the systems I put in place in my 4-part series: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4). If you have had a particularly difficult semester, don't feel like you have to wait until the start of the next school year to completely change your behavior management style and/or systems. Do it now!
For me this year though (and for most teachers I'm sure), things are going pretty OK and I don't feel like I need to make any drastic transformations to how I manage my classroom. There are definitely some classes and individuals that are *cough* not working to their full potential though! I need to spend some time thinking about how I can help them be more successful.
The good news is, I often find that I don't need to add another new behavior management system or make changes to the things I have in place for those specific classes or individuals- usually I realize that I just haven't been following through as completely as I could be on the things I already have in place! It's so hard to maintain consistency and follow through on rewards, consequences, and routines when things get busy in the middle of the year. Sometimes those specific students just need more consistent or frequent reminders to maintain a positive classroom environment.
Another possibility to consider is whether you should spend some focused time connecting on a more personal level with those specific classes and/or students. There are a few classes and students I can think of where my relationship with them has been affected by inconsistent attendance (whether because I was out, or there are assemblies scheduled, or other unforeseen circumstances), or the diversion of my attention (usually because of another class or student that was a major concern for one reason or another) this past semester. I will be thinking about ways that I can re-establish my relationships with them to get us all back on track for the rest of the school year.
3. Organize your computer
I know we often joke about how messy our desks, and even the our entire classrooms, get during concert season. But have you thought about the state of your work email inbox, your desktop icons, your digital lesson files, or your iTunes playlists? I'd be willing to bet things are a little out of control right now, because I know mine are. The problem is there are probably some really awesome and helpful resources on your computer that you have either lost or forgotten about because of that disorganization. Spend a little time over break putting things into folders and playlists and deleting old and unnecessary files. If you want to see how I organize all of my digital recordings, check out this post. And if you want to get all of your desktop icons organized so you can actually find what you're looking for, check out these desktop organizers from The Yellow Brick Road. It's on my list over break to put one of these to good use on my school computer!
I hope you find these suggestions helpful, and that you have a relaxing, rejuvenating, and productive holiday break! If you want more ideas to get organized and refreshed for the rest of the school year, download a free copy of my "fresh start checklists" for school and home. You'll find the checklists for the ideas in this post and much, much more to help you get ready for the new year!