It’s December, the days are short, the school day is long, and everyone feels the impending excitement of vacation. December can be hectic. But I always found that the months that evoke craziness (for me, September, December, March, and June) are often the months that I need to lean into the most in order to feel successful. And each of those months have different and specific moves that support everyone doing their best work, though I’d argue the common link is that all of them require serious relationship building and/or tending.
September probably seems pretty obvious in this way. Everyone is returning to school. There are new teachers, new students, relationships that need reconnection and those that need to begin. The beginning of the year has a whirlwind quality, and it can be hard to feel totally grounded. In a similar way in June, folks are preparing to say an extended goodbye as they leave for the longest break of the year. There are transitions from teachers and schools, and those need to be acknowledged.
I include December and March for slightly different reasons. While I’ll really dig into the former, the latter is what I consider the seventh inning stretch of the school year. You’re ¾(ish) of the way done; teachers and students have a rhythm but also feel a little bored, so it’s time for testing boundaries and seeing what comes of it. In my mind, when boundaries are being tested, it’s a giant sign that teachers need to focus on their relationships.
December isn’t yet the halfway point of the year, but it’s cold and full of expectation. Kids who are celebrating holidays at some point in the month may feel lots of anticipation; kids who don’t look forward to stretches of time at home may feel apprehension. In my experience, both personally and professionally, when feelings are heightened, centering yourself around people who will listen, support, and help is crucial. December has always felt like such a time to me.
Because of the intensity of feelings and expectations in December, I’d like to offer five suggestions for how to navigate the month and alleviate that pressure.
-Try mindfulness practices: In my classrooms over the years, we tried a few different types of meditation. We sometimes did guided imagery (English teacher bonus: This is a really great exercise if you also want to work on visualizing as it relates to reading and writing) and focused on centering ourselves in a particular place. Other times, we would count our breath, paying attention to exactly what we felt in the moment. For a treat, we’d do a chocolate meditation where everyone got a piece of chocolate and had to let it melt in their mouth instead of chewing it (very tricky, even for older students). These practices helped everyone to remember that, while there were many things we could have feelings about coming down the line, we were all still together in our room, trying to do our best.
-Encourage students to reach out: Whether it’s for themselves or a friend, remind students that you are there to support and listen to them. If someone recognizes that they’re feeling off (even if they can’t totally pinpoint the feeling or why they’re having it), they should check in with a trusted adult. Sometimes all we need is to not feel forgotten or lost in the shuffle.
-Check in with individuals: If you have an advisory or a class that you spend extended time with, make an effort to check in with each person at some point in the month. It doesn’t need to be an extended conversation, but it should communicate that you are there for them. Something along the lines of “It’s a busy time of year, and I just wanted to see if you needed anything,” is one way to approach it. For kids who weigh more heavily on your mind, you could make time for a longer check-in or enlist other teachers/trusted adults in doing this.
-Increase parent communication, especially the positive kind: While we’re checking in with students, we should also check in with families and share some positive news. Families always love hearing what’s happening in their child’s classroom, particularly when they’re hearing about some way in which their child has contributed or made something better. Offering these moments to families will breed more conversation. While that may sound like too much time when repeated several times over for several kids, the results will be worth it.
-Keep lessons busy and active: Regardless of how your students feel about an upcoming break from school, keeping them engaged in the work will keep their focus in the classroom. While it’s natural and normal to daydream and anticipate, we want students to focus on what’s happening now so that they can continue making progress. Planning activities that are meaningful and include authentic learning will be powerful antidotes to the hustle and bustle.
The work of tending relationships never really ends. When we’re purposeful about how we use our time to help our kids feel seen, heard, and understood, we’re investing in their success long after they leave our care. This month, I invite you to explore new and different ways of cultivating these relationships; let us know how it goes!
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