5 Ways to Start the New Year Strong with SEL

For many teachers, the first days of school after the first of the year come way too soon. The long winter months lie ahead, and there is still a lot of teaching to do. 

Social and emotional learning (SEL) can help you stave off the winter teaching blues so you can kick-start the New Year with a bang. Making a few key changes to your instruction and daily routine will help re-energize both you and your students so you can finish the school year strong.

Here are five ways SEL can help you increase motivation and create a fresh start after winter break.

1. Set new instructional goals for yourself.

The New Year symbolizes a fresh start, and the return from winter break is a terrific time to set new goals. Here are a few questions to consider as you look for ways to adjust and improve your instruction: 

  • What have your students mastered in the first half of the year? What concepts need additional time, and what material do you need to cover for the remainder of the year?
  • Are there particular instructional strategies that work well with your students? 
  • How well do you know your students? Are there students — particularly those with behavior issues or who are struggling academically — who you could get to know better?
  • How well do you know your students’ families? Are there additional ways you can reach out to parents and caregivers, such as a weekly newsletter, emails, or phone calls?

Select one or more areas above and set goals for yourself. Create a plan for achieving those goals and set accountability measures to check your progress and help you follow through.

2. Teach students how to set (and achieve) goals.

Goal-setting is such an important skill that students will use throughout their lives. When students return to class, prioritize teaching them how to set goals, too. 

Most importantly, teach them how to use specific language when setting a goal. Rather than “I want to do better in math,” students should articulate something specific, such as “I want to get at least a B on my next math test.” 

Then help students create a plan for achieving their goals and include a system that holds them accountable. Throughout the process, encourage students by using language that promotes a growth mindset, such as “You worked so hard to achieve your goal!” or “You haven’t mastered that concept yet, but let’s create a plan to give you more practice.”

Check out this article for additional tips on how to teach students effective goal-setting skills, and how this increases their social-emotional competence.   

3. Re-assess classroom rules.

When students come back from break, take time to re-evaluate classroom rules. You may find that some rules created at the beginning of the year no longer apply, and there may be new rules that need to be established. 

Involving students in establishing classroom rules and consequences is an important way to gain ownership and buy-in. Much research shows that giving students voice and choice in their learning and learning spaces helps them feel valued, increases engagement, empowers them to take control of their learning, and promotes positive outcomes. Involving students in the process of setting classroom rules can also strengthen your relationship with students, which in turn can lead to fewer disruptions during class. 

4. Shake things up.

Making a few adjustments to your normal routine can give students a motivational boost when they come back from winter break. You may consider changing the order of your daily lesson plan, implementing a new on-task reward system (i.e. earning points for a prize or extra free time), or starting the school day with morning meetings (time reserved each day to let students share about what is going on in their lives). If you are teaching students remotely, you can switch up your Zoom background or plan a silly hat day. These simple changes can help increase students’ attention and enthusiasm. 

Of course, be mindful how changes may impact students with special needs. For example, students with ADHD, autism, or Asperger’s syndrome may struggle with changes to their learning environments or routines. In this case, it may be important to communicate with these students ahead of time. You could even provide them with a daily planner that lists every activity for the day. They can check off the activity once it is finished, which will help provide a sense of control and clarity.

5. Bring fresh SEL activities into your daily routine.

Freshening up your SEL lessons can breathe new life into your instruction. Start the new term with new SEL activities. Need some ideas? Check out our blogs, 10 SEL Activities for Grades K–8 and 10 SEL Activities for High School Students

Start the New Year fresh by switching up your routine, setting new goals, and updating classroom rules. Also bring fresh SEL activities into your instruction to keep students engaged. Students will be more motivated to learn, and you will get that needed boost to finish the year strong. 

Want even more ideas on how to finish the year strong with SEL? Contact us and let’s have a conversation on how we can support your needs.

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