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January's Teacher Success Tips

Achieve Your Goals, Plan Spring Break, and Clean (Classroom) House

(Psst, teachers! This is ONE MONTH in my popular 12-month series! See the whole series here and have an awesome year!)

Hooray, you’re here! Happy January, Teachers!

I love being a teacher in January! It’s the halfway mark for most of us, which is absolutely astonishing! Fresh off of Winter Break, students are usually super-refreshed, happy to be in school, and many are eager to learn. The structure of school is a welcome sight, and many students (not all!) often say, “I was ready to come back.”

My batteries are usually recharge, too, because I’ve learned over the years to schedule vacations well in advance! If I don’t schedule vacations, I’m notorious for turning every break into a “stay-cation”. Time away from school, time spent with family and friends – these things often make me feel ready to go back, strange as it seems to “non-educators.”

Therefore, teaching in January is often a joy and it’s one of the fastest months in my opinion. Over the years, I’ve used the following tips to help make January be one of my favorite months in the classroom. I hope they’re useful for you, too!

Check Your Own Progress

If it’s the halfway mark of the school year (WOW), now is a great time to assess your goals and how close you are to attaining them. At the start of the school year, I always have to set professional goals and write them down in my evaluation system.

Now is a great time to look back at those goals and see… “How close am I to reaching them? What’s working, what’s not working? What is it that I need to change in order to hit my target? Was there something that I set out to do but I got too busy in the Fall to complete?”

For example, one Fall I set the goal of re-writing my unit/chapter sequences so that I had more time for review when it came to the year-end final exam. There I was in January and it still wasn’t started, let alone finished. So in my teacher planner, I set aside one prep period per week that I dedicated solely to that task. Believe it or not, I pulled off my goal within one month and was super proud when it came time for final exam review! I trimmed the fat, buttoned up a few units that dragged on a little too long, and was able to achieve my goal, thanks to revisiting it in January.

So take a look at the goals you set out to achieve at the start of this year. Have you abandon a classroom routine or project because life got busy? Perhaps you’ve changed your mind about a procedure or way of operating in class, which is also okay. Now is a great time to take an honest inventory, take stock, and move forward, whichever direction that may be.

Focus on Self-Care in January

January 1st is when many of us (me included!) set goals for health, wellness and taking care of our bodies and minds. In my opinion, no profession deserves a focus self-care like that of education! Teaching and loving kids requires so much from us – physically, mentally and emotionally. We are a walking, talking example of “secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”

I use January each year to focus on new goals for wellness, and I’m often not alone. Like me, others have indulged over the holidays and set January 1st as the date to reign it back in and be thinking about self-care. It’s great to partner with colleagues, family and friends around my health and wellness goals.

Yes, Hydrate!

If you’re going to start somewhere with healthy choices, let it be with more water. When I’m hydrated I feel my best. But the truth is, with very little time to pee during the day, I am terrible at staying hydrated. Phooey!

This is a great year to acknowledge that our career gets SO much of us – our hearts, minds and souls – it’s not going to get our health!

So drink up. If you can’t stand plain water, check out some great recipes for fruit and veggie-infused water (make ahead!). Buy yourself a cute couple of water bottles and strategically place them where you need them. I have one in my car (I fill it every morning while my car warms up), one on my desk, and one on my night stand. Water water everywhere!

Here are a few of my favorite finds on Amazon right now:

Make a Healthy Plan

One way that I balance being an educator with taking care of my body is to get planful…then follow that plan. If you’ve been following my monthly series, you know that I’m a huge fan of the teacher planner! In fact I live by my teacher planner because I’ve grown very dependent upon them over the years. I often tell people, “If I don’t write it down, it won’t happen!” We make hundreds of decisions each day – my teacher planner has saved me! Fitness and health are no different.

When it comes to fitness and self-care, I have to write it down. My teacher planner this year has a cute little section (every day) where I can tally how many glasses of water I drink each day. I write them down. I also plan out when I will work out, take walks, or go to the grocery store to refuel on healthy food and snacks. I schedule walks with colleagues and friends, and am certain to embed physical activity into at least three days per week. Then I get to cross them off after I do them!

Put that teacher planner to use for yourself and don’t forget to get visual! Just as we write down lessons and assignments, I do the same when it comes to self-care. It has made all the difference for me and helps me stick with my commitments longer.

A Little Help with Healthy

Another tool that has helped me tremendously is my Apple Watch – no joke. I am absolutely in love with all of the built-in health and wellness trackers that come stock with the watch. I’m very frugal so I bought a Series 3 this past year and I’m in heaven. I have it set to track my heart rate, steps, remind me to breathe and to drink water. I had it set to tell me when to stand up, but with all my walking each day – well, I didn’t use that feature! It tracks my routes for walks and has surprisingly been a huge motivator for me.

The final reason I love it is that I have so little time in my

day after being in school all day long. The Watch lets me listen to music, text, make calls and check emails all while I’m en route from here to there at school. I feel way more productive, too.

I know this isn’t necessarily a teacher tip, but I had to share with you all today that if you’re thinking of getting one, I’m so glad I did!

January is A Great Time to Reflect…

Over Winter Break, I tend to do a lot of reflecting. Sometimes I reflect very intentionally (download my FREE end-of-the-year Self-Reflection questions for educators here); other times it’s while driving on a road trip or relaxing around my home. Therefore, when I return to school in January, it’s often the best time for me to put fresh eyes on my curriculum, classroom and how I’ll be teaching for the upcoming units.

If you’re like me, it feels sort of strange to come into the classroom after being off for two weeks. In that case, that first day when I return, I like to look around and ask myself, “What’s not working here? What stresses me out when I see it?” Those, strangely, are simple guide posts for what I should change – pronto!

…Then Try Something New

One example is that, for the first year of teaching, I always did my unit reviews the same way. It was the same way my cooperating teacher did them. I thought that method was working really well for my students. However, as I took a step back over Winter Break, I realized that my system was working for me and my tradition, but not necessarily for students. I decided to try something different and I’m so glad that I did!

Out of this realization is where one of my favorite review games was born – The Flyswatter Game (which can also be done with pancake turners). I was inspired to try this activity and it has become a hallmark of many of my reviews as both a middle school and high school teacher.

January is a great time to ask yourself – “Is there an upcoming lesson that has me stressed out? Or a way that I organize my time that just doesn’t feel right?” With fresh eyes and a renewed spirit, now is a great time to look around and wonder, “What should I change?” Being a life-long learner is a gift to myself and a gift to my students. January is a great time to try something new, retire something that isn’t working, and have an open mind. Speaking of “trying something new…” Have you thought about starting your own website? I share a few tips with how to launch an educator’s blog successfully and for little cost.

Clean House

With that fresh perspective after Winter Break, January is also a great time to look around the classroom and decide what needs to go. Take honest inventory. You see, we are halfway through the school year! What was something you planned to do earlier that just didn’t happen? Are there projects, clutter, things that are weighing down your classroom from Fall? Do you have clutter and stacks of papers that are truly not serving you – their time has come and gone and now it’s time to get rid of them? Or did you get new organization equipment when you did some shopping for Black Friday? A new bookshelf? A new storage cubby or bins for organizing?

Clean house and don’t hold back. It’s also “restock” time for many of our classrooms. I always used table caddies on my desks so students had easy access to classroom supplies; it minimized students’ time out of their seats. January is when I go through my glue sticks, crayons, markers, and bins. I throw out the used school supplies and restock with fresh ones.

Save Money on All Things Teaching

A note about funds – some people may wonder, “Who’s paying for all of this lady’s supplies?” Over the years I’ve been fortunate to work in districts that give teachers small stipends to buy supplies. In other districts, schools provide many supplies, stored in a stock room.

Here’s a great list of Teacher Discounts and Promo Codes for saving on everything. School supplies – classroom organization – lesson plans – bulletin board supplies. I rarely spend full price on anything for the classroom!

When I had a small stipend to buy classroom supplies, I always cashed in during the month of July, on Amazon Prime Days. Sure, there are some great back-to-school sales in August. But Amazon Prime Days are game changers for teachers. That’s why I’ve compiled a list for you to save for later of the best teacher discounts in July. I know it’s a few months away… heck, Summer can’t get here soon enough! So bookmark this page for July so that you, too, can cash in on $2 classroom packs of rulers, dirt-cheap dry erase markers and so much more. The list will be updated as Prime Days draw closer!

Plan Your Spring Break – in January!

I know, I know. We just got done with vacation so it seems strange to be thinking about another one! Not to me! I’ve learned over the years that it’s important to keep those special events on the horizon to help me get through the doldrums of the cold winter months. So if you haven’t already, start thinking about Spring Break.

First of all do you have some time off? And if so how much time, and where can you go? Do you want to do something local like a stay-cation and invite family or friends to your world? Or do you want to travel somewhere… perhaps somewhere warm and beautiful? Are you planning something in between?

Now is a great time to start looking at prices and set up your Inbox so that you receive alerts for the best deals in travel. Start thinking about Spring Break and get some price checks coming your way! It’s January already… March will be here before you know it!

Have an Awesome Month!

Here’s to January being your best month yet – for you and for your students. Be sure to check out my year-long list of Teacher Survival Tools. There’s a link for every month and tips for staying happy and sane in the craziest job I’ve ever loved. Bookmark it for later! Happy Teaching!

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