Re-Engaging Students After the Holiday Break

By: Jeff Nazzaro

From the start of the school year each fall, students and teachers alike look forward to the winter holiday break. After four months of hard work, the combination of relaxation and excitement provides much-needed mental and physical refreshment that is crucial to sustain them for the long road to summer vacation.

During these stressful times, with the omicron variant prolonging the disruptive pandemic, the break has become even more important for giving students and educators physical and psychological relief, and school districts across the nation have responded by adding extra days to the usual allotment.

And while not everyone looks forward in the same way to the time off—yes, winter break blues is a thing, especially for those facing difficult at-home situations or craving the structure and socialization school gives—all students and teachers eventually have to return to the classroom, and, re-energized though everyone may be, it can be a challenge to refocus and get back to the business of learning.

Winter break distracts students of any grade level from their school in multiple ways all at once, ang it can be difficult for teachers to regain their attention. But whatever the situation, January brings a fresh opportunity to do just that. Below are some tips for re-engaging students for the educational journey to the end of the school year.

Start with a . . . Refreshed Tablet

Yes, classroom hardware has certainly changed, but one thing that has remained constant is the need to wipe the slate clean when coming out of a break and begin a new unit. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to make sure lessons and projects have been completed prior to the start of the break. Pushing through the distraction of the impending holidays and getting everyone caught up before vacation will obviate the need for enforcing sudden due dates, conducting lengthy reviews, or rehashing last year’s concepts. Brand new topics for the brand-new year will help mitigate the ill effects of the time spent away from the classroom. This is also an opportune time to re-establish a routine and the expectations teachers have for their students in terms of academic work and classroom discipline.

Take It Slow

As so many New Year’s resolutioners well know, January’s belt-worn treadmill is February’s clothing rack. As hyped-up, born-again gymgoers should ease their way towards the dusty dumbbells at the end of the rack, so should teachers throttle back with that brilliant new lesson and give their refreshed charges a chance to re-acclimate themselves to the whiteboard jungle. Before jumping back into the business of learning, let students and teachers get reacquainted through go-to icebreakers, holiday show-and-tells, or time-tested “What I Did on My Winter Vacation” writing and drawing prompts. The first days back from break are also ideal for mapping out the remaining months until summer vacation and setting goals for the academic and social aspects of the rest of the school year. But to head off potential discouragement and ensure a renewed focus, make sure to foreground easy-to-establish short-term goals that will set students up to succeed on that long road to June.

Make It a Blast!

While it’s always good advice to inject a little fun and games into the classroom environment, let’s face it—school is not always about the pure enjoyment. But as teachers and students are easing back into the swing of things on the way to spring, a little merriment goes a long way. Trivia contests, whether Jeopardy! style or more in the vein of Trivial Pursuit, can be a fun way to get student brains revved up again without jumping straight back into the curriculum. Charades can be a fun way to get students engaged in the classroom without being immediately locked back into their desks for the day. A scavenger hunt can likewise get student bodies up and moving about. Teachers are encouraged to bring their own creative passions, interests, and hobbies into the classroom to help motivate themselves following the break, and their students right along with them. Teachers who conceive of themselves as creative individuals are that much more likely to spark creativity in their students, and the results can be not only re-energizing, but academically and emotionally stimulating.

Make It Useful

While teachers can and should bring their outside interests into the classroom to make things fun and interesting, they can also make an extra effort to connect with their students by finding out what twirls their propellor beanies. Incorporating topics and lesson plans focused on the core interests of students is one surefire way to do this, and the period just after a holiday break can be one of the best times to do it. After returning to the classroom, teachers can even poll their students on hobbies and interests, whether as part of a classroom discussion or via solicited list. Collecting lists works for Santa this time of year, why not teachers? After going through all the possibilities, finding ways to use them in the classroom can be challenging, fun, and ultimately practical for all involved.