The nights are getting shorter, days are getting longer, the weather is tempting you outdoors, and the students are starting to get a little rambunctious. It must be spring and around the corner is Spring Break. During this time in March, it is difficult to stay positive, motivated and encouraged but the only thing keeping you all together is knowing that the next 7 days you will be able to sleep in, start and finish some of those spring projects that are calling your name and rejuvenate with your friends and family. At the same time you are daydreaming about long evenings in your newly lit patio (just finished mine, and I am so excited), there are some students in your classroom dreading the next 7 days. They are wondering where their next meal will come from, if there will be one. They are thinking about who will be around during the day to help them, talk with them, and keep them safe. In addition, they be a little nervous about leaving the security that your classroom, your campus provides them between 7-3 Monday through Friday.
This is the unfortunate reality of too many students that I have known and currently know. In knowing this, I always wanted to make sure that the week before any holiday break was an even more special time for students and I to connect and be mindful. I did not want their last memory before a long break to be of me nagging about a pencil or missing homework. I wanted them to think of their classroom and me fondly so they knew that they had something to look forward to when they returned.
Here are a few things that need added to your lesson plans before any holiday break…
Building relationships with your students should be ongoing and should start at the beginning of the school year. This is such a powerful tool that I have made this priority number 1 because
FFM- First Five Minutes– I recently read an article that called for the FFM as a time to have casual conversations with your students. Using video clips, song lyrics, poems, or even a question of the day as a jumping off point the conversations are endless and the value is even greater. By doing this, you have the ability to bring in articles, topics and activities that are based on their interests and connecting lessons to their lives. Most importantly, it allows them to feel as if you truly care for who they are.
Be available – The week before a holiday break, BE AVAILABLE. Be available for lunch bunches, after school, recess conversations, in class conversations. Stop what you are doing and make them the priority. The time you put in to the classroom this week – your availability will come back two-fold if you just make them the priority. This goes beyond greeting your students at the door. I am talking about truly given each student a moment or two of your time that is not content related, but the time is related to getting know who that child is. The content that occurs the week before break will leave them faster than you can say, ‘Have a wonderful break’, but the extra time you put in to being available will be remembered for a lifetime.
Create and Find Mentors/Mentees
One of my favorite times, as a teacher, was when I paired up with my mentor or friend in younger grade classrooms and had my students work with their students either reading, discussing data, or work on writing strategies. The classroom teacher and I were able to observe our group of students working together, bonding, and their excitement. Their energy was contagious. All while taking a few minutes to reconnect with one another.
Just as a teacher needs a mentor (or a marigold) to keep them positive, supported, and energetic- students do as well. In Jennifer Gonzalez’s article, Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers she says that, “if you can find at least one marigold in your school and stay close to them, you will grow. Find more than one and you will positively thrive.” She goes on to compare the marigold to the walnut tree. “Avoid them whenever you can. If you don’t, they will start to infect you, and soon you’ll hate teaching/your campus/your administration just as much as they do.”
I believe a good mentor in a different grade can really help a student navigate those tricky times; to help take care of each other, confide in one another, improve school attendance, and encourage each other to do their best.
Setting Goals and Milestones
The week before a long break can be tricky, but challenging students/classroom towards a goal or Milestone can really help motivate and encourage presence, mindfulness, and attendance.
Projects with Presentations
Math Fact Milestones
The weeks leading up to the long holiday break, I would have student groups choose a persuasive topic of their choice…
The importance of washing your hands
Why students should use Good Reading Strategies
Following the playground rules is smart
The importance of good manners
The students then present the final products to certain grade levels or classrooms. Allowing students to create something authentic for their real world lives added inspiration and an end goal for students feeling the anxieties before the long break. The classroom teacher in that grade would be grading their presentation with the rubric along with myself. This was incentive enough to get my students excited and motivated to get to school, stay focused and do their best.
My own child is currently in first grade, and his classroom teacher adds marbles to a jar every time someone is being kind. Once the jar is full, the class votes on a celebration of some sort. Student attendance is high, acts of kindness are abundant and classroom management is easier.
Create Inspiration Through a To Do List
As a sixth grade teacher, I found that some days just needed a To Do List. I would write down on the board the items that needed to be complete by the end of the class – with an alternative classroom (an incentive) activity that could be done once all the ‘To Dos’ were finished and checked. These were some of our favorite classroom days because they had autonomy, trust, and time. They were inspired to go above and beyond, go at their own pace, and pick the tasks that they felt wouldn’t take as long first. Even in sixth graders WANTED to conference with me and wanting to have that time with me. Adding ‘Teacher Conference’ as a To Do on the list, gave each child the opportunity to set up an appointment with me which gave us an opportunity to talk; we discussed plans over the break, any questions they may have on assignments or any work or assignments that they were struggling with.
Keep in mind;these ideas are strategies to help us teachers keep our excitement of the break from overflowing into their faces and helping our students adjust during these very emotional times.