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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Thoughts to Ponder Over Winter Break

Winter break is the perfect time to curl up in the big armchair in front of the fireplace with a hot mug and a plate of yummy snacks. Sound good right about now? Perfect. First, take some time to breath, release all of that stress, and reflect on everything you have to be grateful for. And while you're there, here are a few more thoughts to ponder that will help the rest of your school year go more smoothly.

1. Long Range Plans

You've made it partway through the year. Maybe you went in with a plan for the year mapped out. Maybe you didn't. If there's one thing you do for your teaching over break, make it this one: take stock of what you've covered so far this year, and figure out how to cover everything else before the end of the year.

This may sound like a gigantic, impossible task, but it doesn't have to be. Sit down and make a list of the most important concepts and skills students need to have by the end of each grade/class (or pull out your pre-made list if you already made one or have something you use from your state/national standards, district curriculum, or textbook series). Next to each item, put a quick ranking:

0 = haven't touched it yet
+ = started but they need more work
✓ = they've got it- just need to review for the rest of the year

Now write out (on the computer or on paper) each month left in the year (hint: don't include the last month. That month should be for review and catch-up) with space to write under each month. Look at your calendar to check for things like testing, long holidays, concerts, or other events. Plan around those- here are some ideas for ways to "keep teaching" when you are forced to focus on specific content or working under other constraints. Now go back to your list, and start filling in the skills and concepts you'll teach each month, taking into account 1) the priority level of the skill/concept and 2) the best way to sequence your instruction.

There. Now you can go into the rest of the school year with the confidence of knowing you're not going to be scrambling to introduce half notes in May.

Want to dive a little deeper? Still overwhelmed or confused on how to plan out your year? If you haven't already, please read through my post on lesson planning from the broad to the specific, sign up for my free Lesson Planning Made Awesome email course, or make your life easier and purchase my plans for the entire year.

2. Lesson Structure/ Format

Think back on your most successful lessons so far this year, and also the ones that flopped. Can you find any common traits that made some lessons work and others not? Maybe one class responds really well when you begin class with movement, or with quiet music playing. Maybe some classes work best in small groups. Are the students most engaged when they're playing instruments, moving with music, or when there's a competitive element involved? Does the lesson screech to a halt whenever you pull out pencils and papers? Maybe they respond best when it's material that you're most excited about yourself.

While I firmly believe in providing students with multiple modes of learning, keeping things interesting by changing up how I deliver content, and making sure my students grow in all aspects of music-making, I also think, especially if you have a class or grade that you're struggling with, that it's important to take advantage of each class' strengths. If one class responds best to active, competitive games, look for more opportunities to incorporate those types of activities the rest of the year (especially if it's a difficult concept they need to learn). If you find the beginning of your lessons are always the hardest, maybe you need to think of a new routine for beginning class.

Don't just think about what you're teaching- take some time to think about how you're teaching.

3. Behavior Management

This is a great time to take a step back and hit the reset button on behavior management. My first year in my current building, I did a complete overhaul of my behavior management systems when we came back in January. It made a HUGE difference! I've written many, many posts over the years on a wide range of behavior management topics. If you're looking for some new ideas, whether it's systems or routines or how to think about and talk to students more effectively, please take a look at this post. I've compiled all of my top ideas into one place so you can find the ones that apply to your situation (and I'm continuing to add to this post as I write new content, so if you haven't looked at it recently, you may want to take another peek).

4. Relationships

This topic is related to the previous one but it's more specific: this is a great time to take stock of your school relationships (both students and coworkers). Which ones can you celebrate? Which ones are causing you stress? Which ones have you neglected? Taking time to think through the people who are a part of your school life can help you make conscious choices about how you can relate to people more positively when you come back in January. Maybe you need to go out of your way to say hi to that kid in the hallway. Maybe you need to have an honest conversation with a colleague. Maybe you need to ask your coworkers for any insights on how to get through to that one student you just can't seem to reach. Maybe you need start eating lunch in the staff room, or forcing yourself to join your coworkers at some of those social gatherings. Maybe you need to take that time off to go to a music education conference this spring.

Relationships can make or break our ability to thrive at work. Take some time to think about what you can do to improve them- it's a win-win for everyone involved when you do!

5. Routines/ Organization

As you think back on how the first part of the school year went, what areas of life caused the most stress? Where did you most feel like you "dropped the ball"? For me it has been laundry, and remembering when to send certain papers to school. Maybe for you it's meal planning, or lesson planning, or the messy piles of stuff all over your teacher desk (or stuffed in your classroom closet). Now is a great time to pick one or two areas that you need to rethink. Figure out what keeps you from accomplishing your goal (for me, I often forget to finish the laundry over the weekend because there are so many steps) and come up with a plan to address those issues (I need to make each step of the process a part of my weekend routine- I'm thinking I will assign a certain time of day for each one, so that if I know I'm going to be gone at that time I can plan ahead for that).

Looking for ideas to help with your organization? Try searching the blog or check out some of these posts below:

Home Command Center
Meal Planning
Cleaning / Chores
Home Closet Organization
Classroom Organization
Teacher Desk

I hope you are able to pause and reflect over break to make some positive changes for the rest of the school year! What are you pondering over break? Leave any questions and ideas in the comments so we can all learn and be inspired by each other!

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