5 Don’ts After Winter Break

Once the remnants of Christmas leftovers and New Year’s champagne have made their final exits, we know that it is time to set the alarm clocks, iron the plaid, and turn on the coffee makers once again. Over the next few days, teachers from across the country will be heading back to school. Almost everyone in education can agree that the winter break is the most needed recess. The same amount of people can agree on many of the “do’s” after winter break: re-establishing your classroom community, expectations, and personal relationships with your students. So, with that being said, here are 5 don’ts after winter break:



  1. Don’t Waste Time on Activities That Have No Relationship to Intellectual Development


Before I start, we must understand the distinction between intellectual and academic development. Establishing group and teacher-student relationships has a direct impact on intellectual development. These activities may not be “academic”, but they indeed have a relationship to intellectual development. Building a positive environment and establishing relationships that foster students’ ideas of themselves as positive and smart students can be achieved in many ways, but not with some “Happy New Years” worksheet that you hand out just to get students “back in the groove” of school.


  1. Don’t Assume You Have Students Who Cannot Learn


I know by this time of year you have a solid grasp on the “capacity” of most, if not all, of the students in your classroom. But just because Michaela has struggled with your program since September does not mean that you should make hardline assumptions about the rest of her year. The break should have been a time for you to re-charge your spirits; meaning re-investing your interest in every student, just like you did on the first day of school in September. Spend that time with those students who may have slipped a bit.


  1. Don’t Quantify Your Students’ Capacity Every Day


I know most teachers want, and assume, to get students back into routine quicker after the winter break than the summer one. That’s fine. But that doesn’t mean that we have to quantify every last thing students do from the minute they step back into the classroom. This “don’t” specifically relates to #2 mainly because a fault of teachers is we (a) quantify everything students do in the classroom with some sort of academic assessment, and (b) make permanent assumptions off of these quantifiers. Balance and patience is key, we will all get to the finish line. But, we will be more successful if we engage students through demonstrating that not every last thing is high-stakes.


  1. Don’t Rush The Academics


This is an obvious but understated rule to all “back-to-school” dialogue. The truth is, there is no magic time frame where one makes the shift from “ice-breaker” or team-building style activities to curriculum centered learning. But, if you are not going to devote at least some portion of that first day back to holding a conversation with your class about the goings-on of their holidays, good luck building that relationship with them in the long run.


  1. Don’t Do Exactly What You Did Last Year


This one may be a little bit confusing, but follow me. We want our students to improve, right? Well then, in some capacity we have to model this behavior. For us, this could be something as disconnected (although nothing we do as teachers is really disconnected to the way we teach) as a personal goal like getting healthier. It could be a professional goal like being more patient or more accessible. It could even be a new saying. Basically, if we want our students to continuously improve and better themselves, we have to demonstrate this act. For me, I try to time up my math and language so that I finish up units sometime during that last week in December. I like to start the new year brand new. New units, new lessons, a new resolution…shoot, I may even come back on the first day with a new Polo! Point being, model improvement in whatever capacity seems appropriate to you.


The stretch after the winter break is crucially important for your students and you yourself as you look to carry on what you have established and maybe even elevate the bar. There are many things you can do to ensure that you have a tremendous second half of the year. But, there are also some don’ts that, if you stay away from, will almost equally ensure that your time back from winter recess will be productive and off to a flying start!


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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