10 Ways to Make this the Best January Ever- #3 May Surprise You!

Coming back from Winter Break is the perfect time for teachers to reflect, reorganize, and refresh! Even though most of us are halfway through the year at this point, coming back in January always feels like a fresh start (or a second chance). Here are some tips for you to start the year right in your classroom and make this the BEST JANUARY EVER:

picture of colored pencils with the text: 10 Ways to Have the Best January Ever

1. Start with a Clean Slate

Whether you take some time before you leave for your break or come in a few days before your kiddos, you will feel much better starting off with a clean, organized room. Get rid of all those broken glue sticks and yucky crayons! Grab some Clorox wipes and clean off all the surfaces. Refresh your bulletin boards. Walking into an organized, inviting space will help put you (and your students) in the right frame of mind to start the second half of the year!

2. Take a Minute to Reflect

Think about your school year so far. Pick one thing that you think you've done an amazing job with (perhaps you're rocking your reading conferences) and make sure everything is in place so you can continue to do it well. On the flip side, think of an area you'd like to improve upon. It could be keeping up with grades or data collection, or maybe you want to firm up your classroom management. Write down 3 actionable steps you can take to improve in this area, and keep them in a highly visible place. Be intentional about doing something on your list of steps every day!

3. Do NOT Review Rules and Procedures (on the First Day Back)

Picture of colored pencils with test: Why you shouldn't review the rules on the first day back (and what to do instead)

I bet I almost got you there! If there's one thing I learned in my 10+ years in the classroom, it's that children are TIRED on the first day back from the break...and their drowsiness looks a lot like compliance. If you review your rules on the first day, you will be thinking, "Wow...they really remembered my expectations over the break! I can hit the ground running with curriculum tomorrow."

Spoiler alert: They did not remember anything about your expectations over the break. They were half asleep. Tomorrow they are going to tear the joint down.

My suggestion to you is to spend your first day back doing relationship building activities and reviewing content from before the break. Then the next day, hit those procedures hard (especially for things like centers and independent work. Your students will be alert and ready to listen! 

4. Try Something New With Your Class

Once you feel confident you've whipped your students back into fighting shape, it's time to try something new! If you're like me, you spent part of your break scrolling through Instagram and saving pictures of things you want to do in your class. Pick out one of those ideas and try it! The excitement that comes from trying out a new activity will help you feel refreshed and energized for the second half of the year. Scavenger hunts, PBLs, or even something simple like a choice board are all great things you may want to introduce to your class in January!

Picture of January Choice Board and activities

5. Take Time to Check in on Your Students

When school starts up after Winter Break, there's often this go-go-go attitude that comes with it. We need to hit the ground running! Testing is coming up soon- no time to waste! Although you may be hit with the urge to hit the gas pedal and floor it, I urge you to hit the brake and spend a bit of time on relationship building with your students first. Although we want to believe each child had a restful vacation surrounded by loving family doing enriching activities, this sadly may not be the case. Try to be intentional about checking in with each kid (even if it's just a quick conversation on the way to lunch) and seeing how they are doing.

Also, a gentle reminder here: know your population well before you do a "What I Did During My Break" activity- especially if the students need to share out loud. Students may be embarrassed if their experiences don't match up to their peers. Just a thought to consider!

6. Leave Work at Work

Picture of colored pencils with the caption: Leave work at work (and have the best January ever!)

Say it with me- THIS IS THE YEAR I STOP BRINGING WORK HOME. Note that when I say "work" I mean it in two ways. First of all, your literal "work"- stacks of papers to grade, lamination to cut...stop putting these things in your bag to take home. I have many thoughts on this subject, but for now I will boil them down into one sentence: do your work during the times you get paid to work!

I also mean work in a more cerebral sense. Who among us has not brought home a situation with a student, or a tense conversation with a colleague. Who hasn't spent the night sitting on the couch stewing over how unfair an admin directive is? As this new year starts, be mindful about what you choose to bring home with you. Commit to walking into your front door and putting work out of your mind until you go back to your classroom the next day.

7. Commit to Doing Something Just for You

Teachers spend a lot of time thinking about what January will look like in their classroom, and they often forget to think about what the new year will be like for themselves. Set an intention to do something that is just for you- for me, it's taking a hand lettering course- and stick to it! Make it a priority because YOU SHOULD BE YOUR FIRST PRIORITY, always.

8. Buy Something New for Yourself

Picture of colored pencils with the text: Treat yourself (and have the best January ever!)

January is a hard month to get through. The days are short but time at school may feel long. You're getting your kids back on track and also preparing them for testing. You're trying to keep up with your resolutions while your to-do list is a mile long. It's a rough time of year- you need to treat yourself! Whether it's a fun sign from Hobby Lobby, or a new book you've been dying to read, gift yourself one thing that's going to bring you joy this month. You deserve it!

9. Allow Yourself Grace

It's very easy to get caught up in all the hype surrounding the new year. You're going to eat only organic food! You're going to exercise every day! You're going to reorganize your entire house and classroom! Then- womp womp!- real life sets in. You have a bad day at school, or you are so busy you forget to eat and end up with a killer headache...SOMETHING is going to derail you and your #newyearnewyou plans.

Don't be too hard on yourself if you struggle to do all the things. Focus on what tiny steps you are taking towards becoming a better human every day. Full disclosure- I have NOT started the month-long yoga challenge I wanted to start on the 1st. However, instead of beating myself up over it, I'm focusing on the things I am doing well with. For example, I'm hitting my water intake goal every day, and I've greatly reduced the amount of sugar in my diet. These are good, positive things! I will get to my yoga challenge when I'm ready. Make sure to give yourself grace at this very busy, stressful time of year.

10. Plan Something Fun with Your Class

Let's take it back to the classroom for a minute. Yes, we have a lot of curriculum to cover. Yes, there is testing coming up. However, if you are a teacher who only cares about these things, you are doing a disservice to your students (#isaidwhatisaid). Take time to do something this month that is just "fun" for no reason- a "snowball fight" (with crumpled up paper), a quick art project, a ten-minute break to go cloud watching. When your kids look back on their school experiences, THIS is what they will remember you by. It's OK to have a bit of fun!

Picture of colored pencils with the text: 10 ways to have the best January ever!

What are some things you do to make January great?

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