January, the first month of the New Year, is a time for setting resolutions and readdressing goals. It's also a good time for a fresh start. Most of us have just had a lovely -- and hopefully refreshing -- two-week vacation, in which we've tried very hard to forget everything that happened during the previous semester. For those who feel as though they've had a rough start to the school year, January is the perfect time to implement some much-needed changes. Even for those who believe their classrooms are doing very well, now is a good time to refresh everyone's memory of how their classrooms work.
January is unique because it offers an opportunity to make large-scale changes without upsetting the delicate balance of the classroom routine. During any other time in the school year, constantly changing your attitude, style, expectations, and procedures confuses students. They never learn what to expect from you, they stop trusting your behavior, and they lose respect for you. Little changes keep the classroom from becoming stifling; constantly changing the classroom structure causes confusion and leads to chaos. January provides a natural break that lets us make major improvements to our classroom management and teaching styles without causing student distress. Below are a few tips to help you take advantage of this "fresh start."
Treat the first day and week back after vacation as if they were the first day and week of the school year. Take some time to go back over your expectations for student behavior and the procedures you want students to follow. If you did not do a great job of setting expectations and teaching procedures at the start of the year, now is the time to implement new procedures and expectations. Your students are in a frame of mind that lends itself to change. Later in the semester, they won't be so open; they'll be less willing to accept new expectations and procedures; and they'll fight you every step of the way. Take the time now to implement the changes you have in mind.
Begin your training program again. Re-train students about your quiet signal and other classroom procedures, including entering the classroom, leaving the classroom, turning in homework, working in labs, and so on. If students do not follow your expectations during the first week or two after the break, stop what you're doing and insist that they meet your expectations or follow the procedure correctly. That is vital to refreshing students' memories of how you expect them to behave. If you do not take the time to refresh their memories, you might find that your students steadily increase their misbehavior throughout the spring semester.
Take a fresh look at your attitude toward your students during the previous semester. Did your attitude encourage student learning and positive behaviors? If it did, continue that positive and uplifting attitude. If it did not, reflect on how your attitude has affected both student behavior and student learning. What can you do differently in during the new semester? Again, this is the perfect time to make those much-needed changes. You still have time to earn student respect. Although you might have challenging students, remember that your attitude determines the overall attitude of your class. When you face your students with a positive attitude, they will ultimately reflect that positive attitude back to you. The same goes for a negative attitude.
Take advantage of this one time in the middle of the school year when you can make large-scale changes, achieve positive benefits, and get a fresh start!