3 Ways to Start the New Year Right in Your Classroom

teacher infront of group of students

I’m always amazed how many teachers come back from Winter break feeling refreshed and inspired, only to be completely overwhelmed shortly after. Let’s be honest, the slow (usually cold), gloomy months of January and February can be difficult for teachers and students to get through. Behaviors crop up in the classroom that you may not have really seen earlier in the year. Everyone’s emotions are running high. Here are a few tips to help you begin the new year on a great footing:

1. Review Routines and Expectations

Students have been at home for a few weeks now. You need to remind them how to behave in your classroom. Imagine it is just like the first day of school. Review ALL routines and expectations again, point by point. Have them practice the routines. If something didn’t work so well last term, this is the perfect time to change it up and start something new. If you would like some ideas on how to make rules and routines fun for students read my post by clicking the link.

Rules And Routines blog post image

2. Set Goals for Yourself and With Students

The beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect on how things went last term and ways you can do things better moving forward. Most schools have some kind of state or national testing that takes place at in a few months that students need to start preparing for. Some of your students may be behind where they should be for the year and they need to set goals to get on track. Give your students an accurate picture of where you think they stand right now and where they need to get to. Then, help them set realistic goals. Read more about goal setting here.

3. Have a Plan For Students’ Emotions

If you live in a place where January and February are marked by cold, short days and gloomy weather, you know that these can be difficult times for students to stay engaged and positive. They often come in to class feel tired, grumpy and maybe even a little sick (flu season). You need a plan to help them deal with all these emotions before they interfere with learning.

Start with some kind of morning check-in. This might include greeting students at the door and having a 1 minute conversation with them about how they are feeling today. It might include letting students journal about their feelings at the beginning of the day. For younger students they could draw a picture of how they are feeling.

Have an area of the classroom where students can get away. This space is sometimes called a calm down corner. If the space you might have pillows or beanbag chairs, stuffed animals, squishy balls, playdough and paper. Teach your students how to use this area when they feel angry, sad or overwhelmed. My students know when and how to excuse themselves from their desk and go to the calm down area. They spend 5-10 minutes in the area and then they return back to their desk when they are ready.

Implement de-escalation strategies.

Although student meltdowns are unpredictable there are signs and a pattern that occurs before, during and after. During a meltdown, the brain enters survival mode. It shuts down the thinking part of the brain and simply reacts to a threat (whether perceived or real). Once a student is in the middle of a meltdown you can reason with them. Threats and other forms of discipline won’t work. You have to help them get their brain out of survival mode by using de-escalation strategies.

Make sure to keep your own voice and body language calm.

Give them their personal space.

Try to distract them with a funny video, a toy or a stuffed animal.

Once the student is in control of themselves again, then you can talk with them and provide consequences if needed.

Read more about de-escalation strategies in this great post by he’s extraordinary.

Hope these tips help you start the new year off on a great foot! Check out these other blog posts for more tips.