The Power of a Mid-Year Reboot

So, it’s the beginning of the year and all around I’m hearing conversations about New Year’s Resolutions. One friend is going Paleo, another is doing Cross Fit, and still, another has decided she’s going to read 100 books in a year (which might be doable if you include graphic novels and audiobooks–which I think are both totally valid).

This is a time for fresh starts. The darkest days of the winter are already over, even if it’s a brutal 36 degrees here in Salem, Oregon (feel free to mock me if you live in the Midwest).

But the teacher calendar is a little different.

For most of us, January is a mid-year point. We’re halfway through the marathon of teaching. Even after a Winter Break, you’re likely tired. Really tired. For all the peppy, feel-good memes on social media about getting excited to jump back into teaching, it’s okay to feel a little haggard right now. This job can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining — even when you love it.

And yet, this is also a chance to do a mid-year reboot. It’s a chance to take a creative risk. Some of the most innovative current classroom teachers I know use the mid-year point as an opportunity to spark creativity and bring in a revived energy at the halfway point.

So, what does this mid-year reboot actually look like?

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Seven Ways to Transform Your Practice Mid-Year

When I taught middle school, I would always focus on one specific area where I could either change my practice or pilot something new. It’s a tradition I’m continuing as I teach at the university level. Instead of trying to do a massive overhaul, I focus on one single thing I can either pilot or change. Here are a few ideas.

  1. Revisit your classroom procedures. Consider how you might streamline your procedures and use elements of UX design to create a more logical and intuitive flow to your classroom. You might even have students meet together as a class and rewrite the classroom norms and create a new procedure chart.
  2. Redesign the space. It might be a chance to change up the seating in your classroom. Or you might want to do some redecorating. This is a chance to get student volunteers to help with the process at lunchtime, before school, or after school. I found that some of the more challenging, high-energy students really shined in this task and it helped me build a better relationship with them; which, in turn, helped them self-manage their behavior.
  3. Try one new project. Maybe you want to start a Maker Monday challenge. Or maybe you want to do a divergent thinking mini-project. Or perhaps you’d like to try out a Tiny House project or do a curiosity-filled Wonder Day, where they get to explore any question they want. Or maybe this is the time you launch a Genius Hour project.
  4. Do a team-building exercise. I know, I know, we tend to do team-building at the start of the school year. However, teams need to have fun and grow closer throughout the school year. The first week back from a break is the perfect time to experiment with a new team-builder.
  5. Pilot student self-assessments and peer assessments. This not only increases student ownership but it also frees up your time as a teacher, so that you can meet with students one-on-one, spend more time lesson planning, and ultimately have additional time on your own to pursue your own passions. If you’re interested, there’s a free suite of assessments in the Design Thinking Toolkit, which also includes this twenty-minute peer feedback system.
  6. Try goal-setting with students. I was skeptical about the power of goal-setting in the primary grades until my daughter came home in the first grade and started talking about her math goals. She could tell me what she was learning, what she wanted to learn, her progress toward her goal, and what strategies she would do to get there.
  7. Find a creative way to affirm your students. I used to make it a goal to send home one positive note for every student every two weeks. I had a bank of positive phrases and an overall template for the letter in Spanish and English. I could then copy and paste a few key ideas. However, I then added a specific example that I had observed. I first began this at the midway point in my first year of teaching and I’m pretty sure I stole the idea from Ms. Jackson (no, not the woman from the Outkast song). When I first implemented this, students were cautious with it. Sometimes they got embarrassed by it. However, over time, they grew to love the notes. Parents and guardians showed up to our parent-teacher conferences on a positive note. Meanwhile, it changed my perspective. I began to look for specific positive things students were doing.

The bottom line is that a midyear point can be a fresh start. It’s a chance to pilot something new and to transform your practice. It’s your opportunity to take a creative risk and do something different. So, go for it. Use this moment as a chance to innovate in your own space.

I’d love if you would share your midyear reboot in the comments section below.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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