When the weather turns cold and the days get shorter, teaching starts to feel harder. I wake up in the dark and get home in the dark. Kids are stuck inside with indoor recess due to the weather, and as a result, behavior gets a little wild. All of these winter woes make me feel irritable, and the students in my classroom feel it too! When I have a rough day or morning, I give myself and students grace. I pause, reflect, and make a change to help our community. At the end of the day, teachers are human. Every human needs a break now and then.
There are small moves you can make as a writing teacher when you start to feel tired or burnt out. These ideas are things that cheer me up and remind me why I love teaching. I hope they help you, too!
Time to Freewrite
Allowing kids to freewrite feels like a breath of fresh air for kids and teachers (Learn more about the importance of freewriting here). Students are excited to take a break from the current genre of study and focus their creativity on letters, how-tos, or comics. I am energized to see the students’ personalities shine through their writing on days when they are free to craft what they wish.
Favorite Read Aloud
Put the day’s minilesson on hold and enjoy a favorite book with the class. Connect the text to writing by pointing out craft moves by the author as you read, or try writing with “borrowed lines,” inspired by this blog post by Krista McGowan. Most importantly, take time to pause and delight in the joy of reading and writing.
Even if you’re in the middle of a unit, a mid-workshop celebration reminds kids and teachers of how far we’ve come since the start of the unit. Students build confidence and feel pride while sharing their stories. They also receive valuable feedback to use for the remainder of the unit. Increase student agency by empowering writers to choose the kind of feedback they’d like to receive: questions, compliments, and ideas all help the writer grow in the following weeks.
I love Lanny Ball’s ideas for different ways to set up writing celebrations in this blog post.
This is my go-to after a tough day. When I’m frustrated with kids, school, or life in general, I take three minutes to type up a positive shout-out email. Simply describing something a kid is doing well makes me feel better, and their guardian’s grateful reply serves as a reminder of how far kids have already come this year. If I have time, I prefer calling a guardian with their child to celebrate student success. Deb Frazier shares tips for helping parents see student work through a writer’s eye in this blog post.
Change It Up
Go for the “wow” factor by introducing something totally new to students. Introduce comic book paper to engage students in writing, drawing, and storytelling. (Author Jarrett Lerner has several varieties of printable blank comic book paper available for free on his website). Make a class newspaper. Make joke books. Make “Lift The Flap” books! If you can have fun and be creative, the kids will too, and engagement and enjoyment will increase.
Let Kids Teach
While most of the above ideas involve a pause, adding some extra rigor might provide the energy boost everyone needs. Passing the microphone to students will remind you how much kids know, and kids are always more motivated to learn from someone new. (For more tips on inviting kids to lead small groups or minilessons, click here and here).
The secret here is that adults aren’t the only ones who get burnt out in the winter. These tips are two-fold. When adults are feeling unmotivated, it’s likely that kids are too. Give yourself and your students grace this month, and try something to remind you and the class what you all love about writing and learning.