Few can argue the allure of a September classroom. September brings sharp pencils, eager students, and ambitious teachers, all ready to tackle the year ahead. Name tags shine, students are (generally) ready to go, and well-planned lessons captivate classes.
But what about the February classroom? Students know one another well enough to bicker like siblings, more than a few lessons are "winged," and, honestly, where do all of the pencils go?!
In February, it can be tough to walk the talk we set out in September. Smack-dab in the middle of the school year, it can feel like we are in a rinse-repeat cycle, week after week.
How can we maintain the enthusiasm, gusto, and commitment that were pillars of our classroom just a few months ago?
Set Short-Term Goals
Personally, I'm a list-maker. I have paper planner and I love making lists. More specifically, I love crossing items off of my to-do lists. There is no greater feeling than the sense of accomplishment, even if it is something as mundane as paying an electric bill. I also love adding a mix of simple and complex tasks to my to-do lists, because the feeling of accomplishment I get when I complete an "easy" task helps to fuel me for those that are more daunting.
Similarly, we can set short-term goals in our classrooms. What is something that you and/or your students could accomplish by the end of the day? The week? When we set ourselves up for small victories, we fuel our confidence levels and start to build momentum. That's what we want this time of year, right? Momentum keeps us energized and excited throughout the latter half of the year.
We can also have students set their own short-term goals. When I taught fourth grade, I had students set a goal of their choosing each Monday and we revised those goals each Friday. Students had full reign of their goal so long as it was something that could reasonably be attained within the week. If the goal was too big, we tried to harness it to make it a more bite-sized goal.
Who doesn't love a party?! If there is one thing that the sometimes-dreary middle months could use, it is confetti and cake - even if just metaphorical!
Celebrate achievements! When students finish a huge writing unit, throw a writing celebration where authors share their finished products while adoring fans snack on crackers and juice. When students reach a personal goal, put a sticker on a chart, create a certificate, or just give them a high five and a meaningful "I'm proud of you for achieving this goal!"
Celebrations don't have to be expensive, nor do they have to take a lot of time, though I do think a "bigger" celebration is fun and special on occasion. When the level of excitement and energy is high off our success, it's easy to watch that energy spill over into other areas, too.
Teachers deserve their own mini-celebrations, too. Dis you grade all of your math tests before heading home on Friday? Did you head home before you created those new slides because you promised yourself you wouldn't stay past five on Fridays? Whatever it is, celebrate those mini-milestones for you, too. A happy teacher is a good teacher.
Let Students Lead
Ownership is an important facet of student involvement within a classroom. I've found that students who feel like they have a direct affect on their learning are often more engaged and energized.
Since we are halfway through the year, students have already figured out the rhythm of your class. If you have yet to hand over the reins, now is the time to give your students the opportunity to take the lead. This can manifest in a lot of different ways: students choice in projects, encouraging students to extend their learning at home, or having students lead lessons.
Personally, I've found that when I step out of my own comfort zone (I'm not historically known for flexibility) and let students lead in their own learning, they can come up with some incredible ideas and avenues which I never would have thought to explore.
Wow - the creativity in these cell models blew me away! As an @iTechPrep engineering twist, Ss had to have at least one moving organelle as inspired by the Harvard vid “The Inner Life of the Cell” #STEM #PBL pic.twitter.com/C4hEIyb0bZ— Erin Lark (@larkscience) February 13, 2019
Ultimately, we need to recognize that February is just going to feel different than September. Every year. Instead of trying to morph February into something it's not, think about all that makes the month a great time for learning. February is a lot more experienced than September. February knows the rules and routines and where to sign out when it needs to use the restroom. As you reflect on your current school year, consider how you might adjust plans to do something differently. Do you have a really exciting lesson that you introduced in September that might spark some energy in February? Capitalize on this midway point for all its strengths and learning will follow suit.
How are you keeping your students engaged and excited about learning, rather than counting down to their next break? What are some other tips or tricks that you have received or might give to someone lacking energy or momentum in the middle months?
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