Returning to the classroom after winter break can feel like “First Day of School, Part 2” for everyone … in ways that are both good and bad!
Students tend to return invigorated by joyful holiday celebrations. Likewise, you and your colleagues may feel refreshed, renewed, and ready to start the calendar year with positive energy.
You may also find that students have forgotten expectations, or gotten out of the habits for learning that they’d established. It may be tough for you to transition back into school mode, too.
Just as many adults create “New Year, New Me” plans, teachers can find exciting ways to begin the new year with students.
The ideas that follow are designed with middle and high school students in mind, but all of the suggestions can be adapted for younger students.
1. Creatively gather student feedback
It is important to share and receive feedback as teachers. We are interested in how well our students are connecting to and mastering content as well as how they are experiencing the learning environment and our instructional style.
Be sure to review last semester’s topics and give students time to review their notes before engaging in any feedback sessions! They will need that time to jog their memory and to offer helpful feedback.
One idea for soliciting quick yet meaningful feedback is the “3, 2, 1” method. You can use the following prompts to guide students through a reflection process:
- Share 3 skills and/or understandings you learned last semester
- Select 2 skills and/or understandings you will cultivate this semester
- Suggest 1 way we can improve our learning experience this semester
Have students answer these prompts via a survey such as a Google Form, or make it interactive by conducting a gallery walk with sticky notes. For collecting the suggestions, you can have students insert their ideas into a suggestion box (Remember those? And the pencil sharpeners attached to the walls?!)
Another creative idea is to swap classrooms with another teacher and conduct whole-class focus groups. The role of the teacher is to facilitate dialogue and to give students independent work time to jot down any thoughts they wish to keep confidential or anonymous. At the end of the focus group session, the teacher will compile the students’ written responses as well as the conversation notes they took. They will then meet with the corresponding teacher to share the themes and takeaways that arose in each other’s class.
2. Create whole-class new year’s resolutions
Creating new year’s resolutions has gotten a bad reputation. However, creating goals and implementing an accountability measure to ensure completion are useful skills to have.
Model this for students by creating whole-class resolutions that everyone agrees and commits to! Be sure to have a way to check in on fidelity and progress. Celebrate moments of success and troubleshoot how to get back on track when necessary. Ensure that the why is clearly articulated so as to inspire student investment in the process of creating and achieving goals.
Resolutions should be feasible and collective. They should also allow students opportunities to help one another to meet the class goal. An unfair resolution would be for everyone to get to school on time every day. We know this is unlikely because things happen or because it may be out of a student’s control what time their family member drops them off. You don’t want a goal that can incite resentment or a blame game. One goal could be deep cleaning the classroom every Friday afternoon; another could be getting two straight lines in an orderly and timely manner after recess.
Resolutions are more likely to be achieved when there are visual reminders. In his best-selling book Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, James Clear reveals that a key to building new habits is to make the task(s) obvious. So create a whole class vision board as a reminder of the commitment and the excitement around achieving collective goals!
3. Start a new class tradition
Ask students what they would suggest! Have some ideas to offer them as well. Be clear about what the purpose of the tradition will be. Is it to enhance connection and communication? Is it to build a culture of exploratory learning?
Some ideas for class traditions are:
- Class greetings
- Monthly classroom transformations (i.e. seating arrangements, bulletin board themes, classroom library options)
- Throwback Thursdays or Fun Fridays
- Class chants
- Birthday celebrations
4. Write “Letters to Self”
This is an excellent project to start an academic year but also a calendar year. Have students envision who they are becoming and have them write a letter and/or create a collection of meaningful images for their Future Self.
This is a great motivator to start the year afresh! You can then collect the letters and return them to the students at the end of the 2023 calendar year!
5. Plan a celebratory event
One idea is to host a potluck where you invite community members and family. Another idea is to have a Field day. We tend to host these events at the end of the year — but why not in the middle of the academic year?
Similar to field day, Getting to Know You (GTKY) activities tend to happen at a particular time of the year: the very beginning. However, humans are always evolving. How better to demonstrate that than to engage in GTKY activities, such as Bingo, at the start of the new year! This is especially great for students who had a tough start to the academic year behaviorally or who joined the class community after the start of the year.
6. Lean into gratitude
One idea is to write thank you cards to custodial staff or to family/community members. Another is for students to express gratitude to their former selves for helping them get to where they currently are. In the new year, we may think it is best to forget the past. However, our past led us to this moment and there are decisions or actions our students have made that positively impacted where they are now. Be sure to assure students that no action is too small to be thankful for!
However you and your school community decide to kick off the year, I’m wishing you all the best, lots of success, and continued progress!
Equity Leader & Coach
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