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Winter Blues?

How to reenergize for second semester.

From the NEA Today Archives

By now, you may be tired of winter—the shorter days, the colder temperatures, the end of the holiday season.

Still, as the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, winter can bring a sense of renewal and new possibilities – especially for educators who seize the winter break to relax and regroup before they return to school. The power of a little downtime can never be underestimated.

“I reenergize myself by reconnecting with my family” says Louis Lessor, a third-grade teacher in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. “As educators, our families are too often neglected during the busy school year when our energies are focused on the students placed in our charge and their families who demand pieces of our time.”

For new teachers especially, the beginning of the winter term presents an ideal opportunity. When Virginia’s Laura Mathurin began teaching, she took the winter break to reassess her first semester, and it gave her the necessary time to reenergize.

“That first winter break was crucial,” she recalls. “I had a pretty rough fall like any new teacher. When the new term began in January, I walked into my classroom with new confidence.”

Winter break is short enough for students to remember the rules and routine, yet long enough to be able to return refreshed and eager to work. Many educators may find they have more patience with students and feel more energized and enthusiastic about what they are teaching. Students in turn may appear more focused and ready to learn as well.

Well, that’s the hope, at least.

We asked a few NEA members for what they have done or are doing to give their classrooms a little jolt to keep students (and themselves) engaged during the first months of the New Year.  

A Sneak Peak

Carl Clausen, a retired elementary art specialist in Kirkland, Washington, says nothing got the new calendar year off to an energetic start than, first, celebrating what his students accomplished the previous term. Before the break, he would give them a preview of what they would be doing when they return.

In drawing, for example,” Clausen explains. “We started with shapes and learned to add shading and texture to individual objects. After the break, we learned to place objects in a composition, like a still life. I showed visuals of what they would be be doing.”

This created anticipation among his students, says Clausen. “When do we start?” they would eagerly ask.

Ownership over Learning

Elementary school teacher Michelle Wise Capen in Lenoir, North Carolina, starts off the new semester giving her students a little more responsibility and independence in the classroom.

"I stress how grown up [the children] are, and I recognize their maturity as students,” she explains. “I have shown them a number of ways to work on spelling words during the first semester. In the second semester, I ask students to assess how they learn best and allow them to choose a learning approach on their own. Since the classroom expectations are still the same, children begin to take ownership of their learning without it being micromanaged by me.”

Dana Moody echoes this approach with her literature circles.

Students choose their own books and read and discuss them in small groups,” says Moody, an instructional coach in Athens, Tennessee. “They love to have a choice in what they read. Students often say that literature circles were their favorite part of the whole year.”

And besides, she says, “nothing beats curling up with a good book on a cold winter day.”

Pennsylvania teacher Lynn Cashell uses students' excitement about the New Year to improve on the previous semester. “We talk about resolutions as re-solutions,” she says. “As a class we discuss what has been working for our class and what may need a new solution. This includes any topic from homework to consequences to seating arrangements. Since the whole class is involved and has ownership, we are all re-energized to tackle the new year.”

Nothing Works like Space and Technology

Vicki Vieau’s class at Salem Grade School in Salem, Wisconsin, participates in the NASA cloud cover project, in which students record observations about the weather as the CERES (Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System) satellite passes over their town.

So every morning at 10:30, Vieau’s students file outside to check the cloud cover, temperature, precipitation, and barometer readings, after which they submit their readings to NASA for entry into an online database. 

"My students enjoy the five-minute stretch and the experience,” Vieau says. “We also sent away for seeds from NASA that traveled to space and seeds that were Earth-bound as a control group. We are going to start growing them now that winter break is over and watering is not a problem.”

Prevention is Better than Cure

Physical therapist Larcy Amorelle in Des Moines, Washington, reinvigorates herself by planning ahead. In October and November, she schedules vacations for February break and makes skiing and snowshoeing dates with friends for January weekends.

When all the hoopla and hullabaloo of November and December are finished,” she says, “I know I have more excitement on the way. That’s how I beat the blahs.”

In Zachary, Louisiana, Julie Smith looks forward to Mardi Gras break. Until then, she and her sixth-graders schedule field trips, celebrate the 100th day of school, and hold the popular “Welcome to the Real World” week.

Students dress for business, prepare for interviews, examine college course requirements, and other ‘real world’ issues like homes and cost-of-living,” she says.

Think Warm

During these dark, cold days of winter, you can take your students on a trip to a tropical island – and you don’t even have to leave your classroom. Karen Maitland and Ginny Kemp at McKelvie Intermediate School in Bedford, New Hampshire, team read “The Cay,” a story about two castaways, to their sixth graders. Then the fun really begins.

When we finish, we hold an island-themed party to celebrate, complete with limbo contest, tropical food, Beach Boys music, and, of course, an assessment of the novel.”

But if all else fails, and you’re ready to try anything to beat the winter doldrums, you can always take this advice from Brian Ellis, a teacher at Ahuimanu Elementary School in Kaneohe, Hawaii:

"Move to Hawaii and the 80+ days left until June will fly by - Aloha!"


How Do You Re-Start Your Engines After the Holiday Break?

After you and your students have enjoyed the December holidays, when winter break is over, how do you reconnect with your students and reengage them with their studies? How do you renew your own enthusiasm?

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