Happy New Year!

New Year, New Habits: 5 Tips for Great Teaching

By Monica Fuglei

Exhausted teachers and punchy students: a perfect recipe for winter break. While everyone’s looking forward to a few weeks’ respite from teaching, grading and classroom crowd control, now is a good time to set goals for the new year. Here are five tips for teachers to remember in the new year:

Plan a January reboot

While the beginning of a school year is an essential time for establishing classroom rules and expectations, returning from the long winter break provides another chance to help students be good citizens of the classroom. Reviewing academic and behavioral expectations can help everyone refocus for the last half of the school year.

This time also provides an opportunity to reset bad habits if students were starting to slip before the break. Gently modeling classroom rules can get everyone back on track for the new year. Rewarding students who are well-behaved helps ensure that everyone understands your expectations.

Help students find new study habits

Students may need help rebooting their out-of-class behavior as well. By winter break, they have received semester and trimester grades, and they may return with new study skills or better grades in mind.

Reviewing the importance of active reading, effective note-taking, studying, and completing homework in a timely manner will help students refocus on their academics in the new year. Some students might not even know they need help in these areas. Often we give them homework or expect them to study without training them in how to do so effectively. A short January session on soft skills may be exactly what they need to improve their performance moving forward.

Start note-taking for next year

If you don’t already keep a teaching journal, now is the time to start. After each day’s lessons, take a few minutes to reflect on what worked, what did not work, and why. If students had unusual or surprising questions, record them as well.

These notes will be essential in creating next year’s lesson plans. Even if you don’t plan to teach the course in the following school year, keeping such notes is an ideal way to record the work you do as an instructor and ensure your best lessons are not lost to time.

Set professional development goals

Teaching is a dynamic career that requires professional development and continuing education. While some professional development is institutionally driven, you owe it to yourself to look outside of school to pursue personal research, continuing education, and participation in professional organizations.

Sit down in January and consider your personal goals, including short-, medium- and long-term achievements. If concurrent enrollment or a part-time professorship are among the goals, consider finding continuing education opportunities that align with your immediate licensing requirements and long-term priorities.

While they may not count toward credit for professional development, finding online communities or connections through social media and Tweetchats can provide ideas and support, often making curriculum and assignment development easier. Consider broadening your professional connections to your short-, medium- or long-range goals.

Strive for more balance

One of the biggest issues of the teaching profession is maintaining work-life balance. This is key to maintaining a long and healthy career. During your note-taking and professional development goal-making, consider also setting healthy limits to your at-home grading and planning time, and brainstorm ways to make teaching a more manageable career.

A short writing assignment can be as challenging or more so than a long one, and answering one or two questions for thoughtfully created student homework still requires students to engage content outside of the classroom in a meaningful way — but both reduce grading workload.

Whatever habits you strive to set, January is a perfect time to examine practices, both student and personal, and adopt some school New Year’s resolutions. Despite being in the middle of a school year, the long break and new calendar year provide the perfect time for a reboot.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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