We’re in the homestretch of the first semester! These next few weeks before winter break are often full of excitement and celebration, but they can also be stressful and anxiety-provoking for all the members within a school community. Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help our students and ourselves stay calm and mindful before the holidays.
The Devereaux Foundation and its affiliated Devereaux Center for Resilient Children has these 7 Tips for Holiday Resilience, which are aimed at adult seasonal sanity, and also offers these ideas to foster social awareness in classrooms:
Holiday Tradition Quilt: Each student comes from a different culture and has his or her own customs. Use this time to allow students to share their holiday traditions with classmates. This can be done in multiple ways. One way is for each student to be given a square piece of construction paper as their “quilt” piece. On this they will draw or write a brief explanation of a custom or tradition that their family has over the holidays. When all pieces are completed, students can share aloud, if they choose, and discuss differences and similarities among themselves. This gives students a chance to reflect on their attitude towards others’ traditions in relation to their own. Another option is to partner or group students together. Each student will individually discuss one tradition that his or her family has (verbally or on paper). Then partners or groups will create one “quilt” piece together that reflects some combination of both or all traditions. This shows students how to listen to other ideas, and compromise on final solutions.
Help an Outside Organization: This can be a classroom or whole school effort. The holidays are a time that many people donate extra supplies, or time, to people or organizations in need. Classrooms can discuss why it is important to provide this care to people in need, and how they might feel over the holidays. Some sort of donation effort could be made by the students such as a canned food drive, collecting pet supplies for an animal shelter, or sending holiday cards to a local hospital or nursing home. This will give students a sense of doing good for others during this time.
Random Acts of Kindness Poster: Create a Random Acts of Kindness Poster for your classroom. Explain to students that a random act of kindness refers to a positive action done for them or to them unexpectedly. If students experience a positive interaction with a classmate they can add it to the poster. Younger students can draw a picture and explain it to the class. At the end of each week read over the poster with the class and recognize these positive interactions between students!
Team-Based Games: When reviewing for a test, or practicing a new skill, turn questions into a game format. Students can be put in teams and instructed to work together in order to come up with an answer to the question or problem. Before beginning the game, explain to students that they will need to cooperate in order to figure out the final answer. You can also add a bonus point for the team that works together best on each question. This will ensure those positive interactions are being recognized as well as the academic content of the game. Award a team winner based on correct answers, as well as the team who has the most points for working effectively as a team. This is a great way for students to experience authentic relationship skill building.
Speaking of team-based games and community-building opportunities, the Digital Activity Center from PeaceFirst is one of the most comprehensive, searchable resources for finding relevant connection experiences for students. This time of year is perfect to restore and revitalize classroom culture ahead of the academic pressures of the spring semester.
Finally, amazing educators from around Austin ISD share their advice and encouragement for these December weeks:
“Every year, at this time of year, when my students come in for class they are relieved to come into a consistent routine. They know exactly what is expected of them and what they need to accomplish via their agenda and objectives for the day, and the routine remains the same, as do the expectations. And while I might supplement a lesson with a sponge activity (regarding the season,) we mostly remain on track.” –Middle School Choir Director
“This is the time of year where I go through old notes students have written me to remind me why I do what I do. What we need to remember is that these students who give us a “run for our money” during the year are the students who, on the last day of school, are always the ones that surprise us with their appreciation. This can rejuvenate our passion as educators to keep on fighting the good fight.”–Middle School Assistant Principal
“Introduce something completely new and utterly engaging. For example, this week, we are doing a modified version of Dungeons and Dragons to illustrate the way the Battle of Yorktown could have turned out. Hey, I know I am going to have fun with it! And, when I have fun, my students tend to have fun!”–Learning Support Services Teacher
“1. Be kind, patient, and welcoming to other students and staff. EVERYBODY is stressed and people will GREATLY appreciate your calm demeanor and positive vibes.
2. SMILE as much as you can. Remember the reason you’re at work everyday, and keep that in mind when things get frustrating, complicating, and stressful.
3. Love your kiddos! Ask them about their holidays (or to be extra sensitive, ask how their break was or what they’re planning to do during their break!) They’ll love you for asking, and they’ll love to share. If this doesn’t work or apply to your situation, remind them of how much YOU love them and care about them. That’ll generate some warm, fuzzy feelings in their hearts.
4. Teach what you can in the best way that you can. The holidays are approaching and it is inevitable that students know and feel it (whether they want to or not). Do the best you can, trust me, they will appreciate you for it!” –High School Social Studies Teacher
Here’s a post from October with even more resources for staying calm and connected, as that is a similar time of transition and stress. And if all else fails, stay with your breath! You are doing a great job!