How We Can Finish This School Year Strong
By Maggie and Piers Blyth
The winter holiday break is over and we’re starting to find a groove as the new year gets underway. Looking back, it can be startling to see how far we have come already! We know our kids as individuals, have established routines, and know who needs what type of support. Now is the time of year that we can really move and make great strides with our students.
That said, February can also feel like both a marathon and a sprint. The second stretch of the school year can bring stressors and challenges that push us, especially if your school has standardized testing.
So, as the latter half of the school year reaches full speed ahead, it’s important for us to stay centered, focused, and motivated so we feel our best and close out these months in a way that makes us proud.
Here are some of our favorite tips to help do just that.
Celebrate your successes.
Teachers are incredible, and so many work magic on a daily basis in their rooms. Look for and celebrate these successes in your life, no matter how small. Recognize that kid who has learned coping strategies that you taught them. Listen to a student problem-solve a situation that would have sent them into a spiral earlier in the year. Notice the growth in writing, solving, thinking, brainstorming that’s happened because of you.
Celebrating your successes is not a selfish, flashy task. Teachers move mountains each day, and when we stop to recognize our achievements, it helps boost our morale and gives us the energy and motivation to keep going. Humans are motivated to succeed, and the more we succeed, the more likely we are to keep working at it. Recognize your wins on a regular basis, and share them with your colleagues, friends, or family. This not only helps you feel appreciated, any good friend will be thrilled to hear about your victories.
If it feels hard to find your wins, take some time to think about all that you’ve accomplished so far in the school year. Where were your kids in August vs. January? What have you learned along the way? You can also include your students in these celebrations. Make time to celebrate all of their achievements, even if it’s just a few shout outs at the end of the lesson. We all love feeling seen, recognized, and praised, so make it a community experience!
Take breaks and set boundaries.
While it may sound cliché, teaching is such a selfless, giving job that it’s important to prioritize taking breaks and recharging so we stay focused and energized. Take a few minutes each day to step away from your work and do something you enjoy, whether it’s going for a walk or spending time with friends and family.
Burnout is real, and when we work for long periods of time without a break, or when we forget that we are people with full lives and not just Mr. or Ms. Teacher-Person, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Taking regular breaks can help us recharge and refocus, which can ultimately lead to us being better teachers in the classroom, too.
Taking breaks doesn’t have to be a whole day thing (although it could be if you need a mental health day). Consider small moves you can make to prioritize yourself and your well-being:
►Step away from your work: Allow yourself to leave things at school. Don’t feel the need to grade every single piece of work. Push yourself to be as productive as possible during your preps so that you don’t need to lesson plan in the evening. Collaborate as a way to “divide and conquer.” Use crowd-sourced resources. Remove your school email from your phone. Look for ideas to cut down on your at-home workload – you’ll find plenty on the top teacher websites (like here).
►Find your relaxation: When you get home, take at least a few minutes to do something you enjoy. Picking out a new playlist, podcast, or recipe can be a fun way of disconnecting and recharging. Take a walk, play with a pet, call a friend or family member. Find something that you know will make you say, “I’m glad I did that” afterwards.
►Prioritize your health: In whatever way is possible for you, prioritize your own health. That thing they say on airplanes may sound like a cliché these days – but it’s true! Put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others. If people are not well, they suffer. If teachers are not well, then they and their students suffer. Try to insert a little bit more exercise into your life, or some easy meal prep. Watch your sleep and water intake. Take your vitamins. Meditate. Be mindful of screen time. Remember that nothing is more important than your health, then give yourself permission to take action on that.
Revisit your goals for this school year.
Take some time to think about what you want to achieve in the remaining months of the school year. Do you want to improve your students’ test scores? Do you want to implement a new teaching strategy? Try a new management system? Have more fun with your lessons? Whatever your goals may be, it’s helpful to know where you’re going and have a clear plan in place to keep you grounded as you consider new things.
When setting goals, it’s important to be specific and measurable. Instead of setting a vague goal like “improve student performance,” try setting a more specific goal like “increase the average test score for my math class by 10%.” This will give you a clear target to work towards and help you track your progress as you look for the best solutions.
It’s also important to consider the feasibility of your goals. Make sure that your intentions are realistic and achievable given the time and resources you have available. Setting unrealistic goals can lead to frustration and disappointment, which can discourage you from continuing to work towards them.
We can also consider setting both short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals can help you focus on smaller tasks and make progress on a daily or weekly basis (that’s energizing!), while long-term goals can gift you with a larger vision and help you stay motivated over the course of the school year. Bottom line? Make your goals specific, measurable, feasible, and timely.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the tasks and responsibilities that come with teaching. If this is the case for you, think about how you can help yourself manage your workload.
Did you start the year with a personal promise to keep better track of your tasks and deadlines? Maybe use a calendar or Google Doc where you keep a running list of your work? Did you fall off that wagon?
Staying organized is key to staying focused, motivated, and less stressed as you finish the second half of the school year. Here are a few tips to help you stay organized or get reorganized:
- Use a planner or to-do list: Having a clear overview of your tasks and deadlines can help you prioritize your workload and stay on top of your responsibilities. You can use a physical planner or a digital tool like Google Calendar or Trello to keep track of your tasks.
- Keep your workspace clean and clutter-free: A cluttered desk or workspace can be distracting and make it harder to focus on your work. Take some time each day to tidy up your desk and get rid of any unnecessary items. As you reorganize your physical space, you’ll find yourself reorganizing your mental space as well.
- Create a routine: Establishing a regular routine can help you stay organized and on track. Consider setting aside specific times each day for different tasks, such as grading or updating lesson plans.
Teaching can be a challenging and isolating profession at times. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your colleagues, coach, or administrators for support and guidance. Collaborating with others can help you both manage stressful times and share your wins.
If you don’t feel comfortable seeking support from within your school, consider reaching out to other teachers or education professionals outside of your school. There are many online communities and professional organizations that can provide support and resources for teachers.
Don’t be afraid to ask about and utilize your school’s resources, too. Many schools have support systems in place for teachers, such as mentor programs or professional development workshops. Check into different teachers’ perks as well. Some companies, gyms, and apps provide significant teacher discounts. Take advantage of these! Asking for help is always a good idea and nothing to be ashamed of. Isn’t that what we would tell our students? It’s true for us, too.
We’ve reached the peak.
We have already accomplished so much this year, and we have another big stretch to conquer. We’re standing at the peak and preparing for the downhill race. We’ve climbed to get here, but we still have a journey to get to the finish line. It’s easier on the way down, but we still have to take care, chart our path, and stay alert for the obstacles and opportunities ahead.
We got this.
Piers and Maggie Blyth are veteran teachers and the founders and co-hosts of The Morning Duty Podcast, a weekly show for educators with helpful tips and good news. With 13+ years of experience in education, Maggie (now teaching in middle school) and Piers are intent on elevating the profession, helping teachers have better days, and connecting educators around the country.
Listen to stories of positivity each week on The Morning Duty Podcast and their Instagram. And check out their 2022 article for MiddleWeb: “Boost Student Creativity with Project Learning.”