Teachers, if you are anything like me, your winter break flew by and now your head is spinning with all you need to accomplish in the second half of the school year. It’s tempting to hit the ground running that first day back, but the transition back to the classroom after a break can be challenging for many of our students. Teachers with the best-run classrooms and strongest student-teacher relationships take the time to honor these transition periods and plan for their challenges. Here are four simple ways to make the transition back from winter break a positive one in your classroom.
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1. Let Students Know You Were Thinking of Them
Consider starting off that first day back from winter break with a little personalized sticky note or dry erase message left on each child’s desk. Connect to a little something you know about the student and share a little about yourself. You only need to write a couple of sentences to make a positive impact.
Another fun idea is to leave a personalized book recommendation from your classroom library with a note or bookmark on each student’s desk. This lets students know they were in your thoughts while also continuing to build and foster a community of readers in your classroom.
2. Review Routines and Expectations
A couple of weeks can feel like a very long time for a young child and home routines and expectations are likely very different from those followed in the classroom. Set students up for success by taking a few moments at various points throughout the day to review your classroom routines and expectations as needed. Have a student model how things are done when appropriate.
In my classroom, this begins from the moment we get to school. I pause my class line in front of our coat hooks and ask a volunteer to remind us how we unpack for the day. A couple more volunteers show us how it’s done, and we are on our way!
Some other expectations and routines to consider reviewing are lunch count and attendance routines, behavioral expectations, line expectations, restroom sign-out routines, hallway expectations, center/small group routines, partner work routines, lunch and recess expectations, and end of day/packing up routines.
These little pit stops throughout the day may take a few extra minutes here and there, but they will likely save you and your students both time and frustration by the day’s end.
3. Plan Time to Share
Your students likely haven’t seen or heard from some of the most important people in their young lives — their classmates and their teacher — in weeks. Allow them to reconnect by setting aside a little time for those that wish to share about their break to do so. Be mindful that the time off and holiday celebrations will have looked and felt different in different households. Consider prompting students to share “something they did, something they read, or something they saw over break” to leave the topic open enough to give everyone an entry point into the conversation.
Worried about students going off on tangents? You can use a one-minute sand timer to keep the time frame for these share outs reasonable. Another option is to offer a few sentence frames which require students only to plug in a word or two to keep the discussion moving. Model what a brief share looks like and give gentle but consistent reminders to those that may have trouble keeping to those expectations. Be respectful of those that prefer not to share, but also consider checking in one-on-one at a quiet point in the day.
Can’t fit an oral share out into your busy schedule? Try a quick write share in the form of a journal entry or allow students to share out digitally on a Google Jamboard instead. I’ve linked a free Jamboard here. Just make a copy and set your students to be editors so they can add their sticky notes. You can review what students wrote and write some quick notes back later if you wish.
4. Set Goals
A new year is a great time to model setting goals and planning steps toward achieving them. One way to do this while also building students’ technology skills is to create digital goal setting posters. As students are working, you can digitally comment or physically conference with individuals about their goals and offer feedback and encouragement. This is another great opportunity to reconnect and really get to know your students as individuals.
I hope your first day back from winter break is full of smiles and memorable moments with your students! I know your students can’t wait to see you!