Winter break is mere weeks away—but far from slowing down, the last few weeks of the fall semester seem to reach a fever pitch every year. Both inside and outside the classroom, you’re probably being pulled in a hundred directions, from holiday parties, to wrapping up lesson units, to the hours of shopping and decorating you swore you wouldn’t put ourself through this year. Throw in the near-constant sugar-induced energy spikes (and crashes), and you’re looking at a holiday hangover before the holidays even arrive.
In this article, we’ll look at some practical ways you can hold onto your holiday cheer—and your sanity—all the way to the New Year.
Give Yourself a Break on Decorations
As tempting as it can be, you don’t have to create a Pinterest-worthy classroom. Remember, whatever you put up now, the holiday elves aren’t going to take down for you. Do your future self a favor and keep things simple so you’re not spending your last day of winter break dismantling a winter wonderland.
In fact, you can put your students to work decorating your classroom—and make it educational too! One of our favorite activities is the Chemis-Tree from Teachers Pay Teachers.
You don’t have to be a chemistry teacher to enjoy the Chemis-Tree. The basic idea is that you put the elements of the periodic table on colored paper and then hang the elements on your wall in the shape of a Christmas tree. Here’s how to set it up:
- Decide how big you want your tree to be. This will help you determine how big to make each element of the periodic table. For a full-size tree, you will have about 12 layers of elements from top to bottom.
- Get some green, brown, red, and yellow paper.
- Print out the elements of the periodic table: one on yellow paper, six on brown paper, 45 on green paper, and as many as you want on red paper. If you don’t want to use a printer, you can have students write out the elements.
- Have students cut out each element (they should all be the same size rectangle).
- Stick the elements on the wall in the shape of a Christmas tree: green for the tree, brown for the trunk, red for the presents, and yellow for the star.
Speaking of decorations, did you know there are around 15,000 injuries a year simply from decorating-related accidents? So, yeah—be careful on those stepstools!
Get Your Students Involved
Along the same lines as decorations, the pressure to put on a classroom holiday party or provide some other in-school treat can be enormous. If your students express a desire to celebrate the holidays in class, don’t assume that means you have to become a party planner extraordinaire overnight. Instead, you can use students’ excitement as an opportunity to help them take ownership over their classroom and their learning.
For example, if your students want to have a holiday party, put them in charge of it. As a class, brainstorm everything that needs to happen to throw a good party, create a task list for each category, and then assign committees of students to take care of food, decorations, card or gift exchanges, games, and so on. If the party is important to them, students will rise to the challenge, and they’ll set more realistic expectations if they know no magic elves are going to pick up the slack.
Or if students don’t want a party but are still hopped up on holiday energy, you can direct their focus toward learning about history, culture, diversity, and tolerance. Christmas can often dominate the December holidays, but students in your class likely celebrate in a wide variety of ways. Take some time for students to share about the holiday traditions in their homes; you can even take these conversations to the next level by having students research the origins of different holiday traditions, including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, and more. These fun lesson plans about Hanukkah from Education World can get you started.
Direct Holiday Energy Toward Something Positive
Students’ energy is at an all-time high leading up to the holidays. That means there’s a higher chance for misbehavior and interrupted class time during an already high-stress period. But don’t let this challenge turn you into a Grinch. Instead, make a plan to direct your students’ energy toward productive activities. For example:
- Start a new weekly classroom incentive. For example, you can challenge students to raise their hands before speaking at least 90% of the time during the week, and if they succeed, they can have extra time on the computer. Or you can hand out holiday bucks as rewards for good behavior, which students can turn in for small prizes or extra privileges.
- Offer a chill-out pass. This pass allows students to step outside the classroom when they feel a strong emotion or wave of energy coming on. That way, students can work out their energy and come back to class in a better state of mind without disrupting anyone else. Of course, make sure to designate when students can use the pass and where students are allowed to go while they have the pass (e.g., the hallway, the gym, the front office).
- Get your students moving. The CDC recommends that your students should be active at least an hour a day. Help them stay active by introducing brain breaks such as stretching, jumping jacks, or even a two-minute dance party. It will make you all feel better and help relieve pent-up energy.
Finish Your Work Before the Festivities
No monthly to-do list grows faster than your December one, so beware of letting requests from colleagues and others divert you from taking care of the essentials. Plus, teachers are chronic overachievers, so sometimes the hardest person to say “no” to is you. But remember: If you choose to do Elf on the Shelf, that means the hours you spend surfing the web for setup ideas are hours you could have used on essential tasks like grading. So ask yourself: Is the Elf (or any other task) really worth having to take papers home over the break?
Once you confirm that everything on your to-do list is actually necessary, make a plan to get it done before you leave for winter break. It might require a final push of effort, but imagine walking to your car on the last day of school with no papers in your bag and no cleanup waiting for you when you return.
Sound too good to be true? Let’s make it happen by being strategic about these four things:
- Grading: Can students or an aid help you grade? Can you turn an individual project into a group one (thereby leaving you only a fraction of the papers to grade)? Or if you assigned a final essay, can you create a rubric that will make grading go faster?
- Paperwork: With December being the end of the semester as well as the end of the calendar year, progress reports and other paperwork can accumulate quickly. Look for ways to automate e-mails or reports, or recycle content you’ve written before to make this work go more quickly.
- Packing up: Leave your classroom spotless and uncluttered before you leave for the break. Your students are going to be restless on the last day of school anyway, so let them get up and move by helping you clean and pack up your room for the break.
- PD: Do you have deadlines for professional development or other training? Use the time you’ve saved up by delegating other tasks to wrap up these commitments without losing sleep.