10 Winter Classroom Survival Tips

Winter is coming. While we might not need to fear White Walkers from HBO’s Game of Thrones, we do need to fear a lack of effort and productivity all around from students and even ourselves. For many students, the start of winter means that they are already thinking about the winter break and their Christmas lists. Every minute of the school day is extremely valuable and the following tips will help you maximize time so that you are doing more than surviving, but thriving with your classes up until the winter break.

1. Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT, make a countdown to the winter break on the board or anywhere else.

Counting down days can send the wrong message to students that school is just something that they have to get through. Also, many of our students have a lack of stability at home and actually worry about getting food, who will take care of them, and who will support them.

2. Keep behavioral expectations HIGH.

If you have established expectations in your classroom, stick to them! Students can sense when you have checked out. Give them an inch and they will take a mile…sometimes a whole marathon.

3. Keep bringing up classroom expectations.

Going over your rules at the beginning of the year does not suffice. We need to continually talk about, utilize, and hold students to the expectations that were established. Take flying on a plane for example–they talk about safety procedures EVERY time you get on a flight. 

4. Keep academic expectations HIGH.

This means no holiday movies, busy work, etc. Students can do those things at home so why should they come to school? Hold students to the same rigor and workload in December as you did in September. Students need to understand that your class is not just a holding cell until the winter break.

5. Continue to work on social and emotional skills.

Doing a few lessons at the beginning of the year is great, but the learning needs to happen throughout the whole year and reinforced in order to be effective. We likely didn’t solve our students’ social and emotional needs with a classroom lesson. It needs to be intentional, in real time when opportunities arise, and consistent.

6. Continue building relationships.

We all love to do our icebreakers at the beginning of the year but tend to stop doing activities where students build connections as the year progresses. Relationships must not only be established but fed. A great example of a classroom activity that can be used often are welcoming and closing circles, which is a big component of restorative practices. The book Hacking School Discipline has great tips, tricks, and practical strategies for building and sustaining relationships.

7. Send home positive communications.

A lot of us get on a kick with sending positive messages home towards the beginning of the year, then taper off. Students from preschool through adulthood love when you contact home for something positive! This will help strengthen the relationship with home as well as motivate the student to keep up the good work. Try sending one or two brief positive messages a day and watch great things happen! Bonus if you send communications home to students that sometimes struggle. Their parents might be used to only getting negative communications and will likely be overcome with joy with a positive message!

8. Keep kids active.

Spoiler alert….students have short attention spans. When they are asked to sit for long periods of time, they tend to zone out, or worse, act out. Make sure you build in brain breaks into lessons, keep things engaging, and have students get up and move to new locations for activities. A great activity I learned from Connie Hamilton, author of Hacking Questions, is called Clock Partners. Each student will have an already-established partner for 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock that they team up with when asked. For example, a teacher might be doing a discussion and say “please get up and find your 6 o’clock partner. When you are ready, please talk about the difference between a fact and opinion. We will then share out.” 

For more brain break ideas, read: 20 Best Brain Break Ideas for Your Classroom

9. Stay positive.

We’ve all heard the phrase “When mama ain’t happy, no one’s happy.” We must stay positive, stay positive, and stay positive. If you are not feeling overly positive, fake it until you make it! No student wants to be in a room with a grumpy teacher. Like it or not, you are the driver of classroom culture and climate. 

10. Do things for you.

We all feel the grind of trying to get everything done before the semester ends, but a tired and stressed teacher is no good to anyone. No matter what you think, you are not overly productive past a certain point. Taking care of yourself by eating well, exercising, doing hobbies, and spending time with your loved ones will rejuvenate you, regulate you, and repair some of the toll that teaching takes out on your mental and physical safe. When you feel better, you will be more productive. This will allow you to accomplish more during the time you are working on school.

Read: Self-Care Is Not Selfish, Self-Care Is Professional Development

Good luck for the rest of the semester, and as Tim Gunn from Project Runway likes to say, make it work!

For more on classroom management and restorative practices, check out Hacking School Discipline by Brad Weinstein and Nathan Maynard.

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Brad Weinstein

Brad is a social media influencer, keynote speaker, entrepreneur, author, and educator from Indianapolis, Indiana. He is the creator of TeacherGoals on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Brad is the Chief Innovation Officer and a co-founder of BehaviorFlip, the first software that utilizes restorative practices. He is a co-author of the Washington Post Bestseller Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice and has been featured in numerous high-profile publications and podcasts.  

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