Starting the Spring semester is always exciting, but a bit overwhelming. Often, we realize how much content we still need to teach…where did half of the school year go?!
But we’re also met with students who have matured over the break and started to really blossom and show new strengths and abilities.
At the beginning of the year, it’s easy to focus on building a strong classroom family and strong relationships with each student. There’s (typically) some time built in for that and there’s usually support from admins and colleagues. It’s equally important, though, to focus on this after coming back from winter break. Our students have been away from each other (and us) for several weeks, and fallen out of routines. Because every student has a different experience on break, it’s important that we “even the playing field” and reengage students in our classroom community. There are several things we can do to make for a great second semester, but a few things come to mind that can make a huge difference.
Review your classroom values or “non-negotiables.” I created these posters years ago to remind us about the things that are always true in our class. No matter what time of year or what else is happening we are in, these things are always true. I share these posters during morning meeting, as well as the matching read-aloud. We typically do 1 a day for the first 2 weeks of school and the first 2 weeks back. YOU CAN GET THOSE HERE.
Review expectations. A lot of students may have had an entirely different routine and set of expectations while they were out of school. It’s not fair to expect students to jump right back in to where we were in December without a few reminders. Things like how do we unpack in the mornings, how do we get the supplies we need and expectations for walking in the hallway are great things to “re-teach” after a long break. You can get the following activities HERE.
Encourage students to re-connect. Just like at the beginning of the year, we encourage new and existing friendships within our class it’s important to give students time to reconnect after the break. Offer some games and quick activities for students to remember what they have in common with their peers and have positive interactions from the very beginning of the new semester.
Be mindful of the different experiences students have over the break. For a lot of students, extended breaks are relaxing, fun and exciting. For others, though, they might be lonely, boring or even painful and scary. If you choose to have students talk about their break, give them another option. For example, you may have students share “one fun thing I did over break.” Instead, you could have them share “one fun thing I did over break OR one fun thing I’m looking forward to doing at school.” This makes sure all of your students can participate and don’t have to make something up or share something they’re not comfortable with.
Set aside time for individual students. Time management is one of the most challenging parts of being a teacher. There truly just is not enough time in the day…or week…or even year! During the first few days back, though, it’s SO important and helpful to set aside even 30 seconds to connect with students individually. It might be during guided reading, when they first come in, at recess or during writing workshop. You don’t have to spend 10 minutes with each child to make a difference. During reader’s workshop, for example, instead of jumping right into the content, say “I’m so happy to be back reading with you. I really missed that during the break! I even saw some LEGOs at the store, and it reminded me of you and how you love to read LEGO books.” I’ve barely taken any time at all away from instruction, but I was able to share a meaningful connection with that student.
There are so many ways to reconnect with students after the break, and it’s important to find what works for you. Remember…a few minutes building relationships will save SO MUCH time later.
If you’d like to have students write about “One Fun Thing,” here is a free download for you! Students can choose to write about a fun thing from their break or a fun thing they want to do this year!