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January Jumpstart: 8 Reflection Questions to Help Teachers Start the New Year Strong [episode 111]

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Overview of episode 111:

As you head back to school after a relaxing winter break, we wanted to help prepare you to start your year strong and on the right track. Just like you might have set some goals or thought about how you want this new year to go in your personal life, we decided to use the same concept but for the classroom. So in today’s episode, we’re sharing eight reflective questions to jumpstart your January classroom reset.

Each of the eight reflective questions require you to examine what happened and how you felt the first semester, along with looking ahead to the rest of the school year. As we discuss each question, we also provide you with some examples on how you can successfully make the appropriate changes or adapt what’s already in place. In true Teacher Approved fashion, we also share a few of our favorite strategies to help with alleviating headaches and adding some fun to your schedule.

With only one semester left to go, you want to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible. By asking yourself these eight reflective questions, you are guaranteed to have a successful January classroom reset.

Highlights from the episode:

[00:49] Today’s morning message: what is something you still do the old fashioned way?

[5:46] Question #1: What is going well?

[7:18] Question #2: What are your biggest headaches?

[10:35] Question #3: Where have you made progress on your back to school goals?

[11:50] Question #4: Are your goals still serving you?

[13:09] Question #5: How well are you taking care of yourself?

[14:30] Question #6: What do you want more of and what do you want less of?

[15:44] Question #7: What does your classroom need?

[17:01] Question #8: What are you looking forward to?

[19:33] Today’s teacher approved tip for making a plan for how you will start doing test prep.

Resources:

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Read the transcript for episode 111, January Jumpstart: 8 Reflection Questions to Help Teachers Start the New Year Strong:

Emily

Thanks for joining us today. In today’s episode, we’re sharing eight questions you can ask yourself to help you reset your classroom and start the new year strong this January.

Heidi

We start our episodes with a morning message just like we used to do at morning meeting in our classrooms. This week’s morning message is what is something you still do the old fashioned way? Emily kick us off.

Emily

Well, I still write a paper to do list. These days, we do so much of our work digitally, that it makes the most sense to keep my to dos digitally as well. And I actually do keep a digital to do list. But when it comes down to what I need to accomplish today, my brain is just so much happier when I write it out on a piece of paper.

Emily

It’s the first thing I do when I’m feeling overwhelmed or like I can’t focus, I grab a piece of paper and just brain dump all the things I need to get done that day. And seriously, is there anything more satisfying than that feeling of physically crossing off something on your list?

Heidi

Yeah, that’s why I will add things I’ve already done to my lists.

Emily

And checking a box or hitting the like strikethrough button on the computer is just not as satisfying as your pen dragging across that to do list items. But the downside to this is that my desk is cluttered with old half finished to do lists everywhere. What do you still do the old fashioned way, Heidi?

Heidi

Well, I am the same with the to do list probably just because like you I like checking things off. My calendars on my phone. But I have a daily to do list that’s on a notepad.

Heidi

But something else I do the old fashioned way, I cannot follow a recipe off of a screen off my phone off an iPad. It just drives me crazy. I want an actual paper recipe. So now I’ve got like this huge stack of loose recipes I’ve printed off and then have just never bothered to figure out what to do with. So that’s kind of the downside of being old fashioned on that one.

Emily

Yeah, I guess the other thing we do old fashioned is make paper clutter. I think I’ve got digital clutter too. I’ve got all the clutter.

Heidi

Well someone else keep those paper salespeople in business, right? Dunder Mifflin.

Emily

We asked our community what they do the old fashioned way. Suzanne said math. And Lisa said, Read a real book and read aloud to the class. The kids love it. Even in fifth grade. I’m like that should not even be considered old fashioned. Tracy said grade books, she still uses a paper and pencil.

Heidi

And I’m the same one that one Tracy, I hated to do my grades on the computer. I sound like a dinosaur.

Emily

And Nancy said daily read alouds after lunch. We’d love to have you join the conversation over in our teacher approved Facebook group.

Heidi

So when I saw that this was episode 111, I kind of thought hey, wait a minute. Isn’t that supposed to mean something? So I looked it up. And the answer I thought made a fun little kind of fortune cookie for how we might be feeling at the start of January.

Emily

Okay. Lots of people are into numerology, but I wouldn’t say that’s normally our thing.

Heidi

Not really not horoscope release either. But it can be a fun way to maybe help us connect with the stories in our lives. So if you hear something that’s resonating with you, maybe look a little deeper. Maybe it’s resonating with you for a purpose.

Emily

Okay, so what are we getting with 111?

Heidi

Well, accourding to a highly researched USA Today article, 111 signifies the start of things, whether that’s a new journey or a new path.

Emily

Well, that fits for January.

Heidi

Yes. And 111 is supposed to be your green light, you are on the right track and the road is clear.

Emily

Ooh, all good things to hear at the start of a new year.

Heidi

And I like this quote from the article, the universe, I need some crystals or something. Okay, just imagine we have crystals.

Heidi

“The universe is giving you the ability to choose how your future goes by providing options, along with giving you the self confidence to make the decisions that feel right to you. Not to mention the resilience and passion to accept whatever positive or negative outcomes result from those decisions. Ultimately, you’ll know the right decision by trusting your gut. If you are doubting yourself, have faith that this number coming into your life, ie this podcast episode, means you can stop hesitating.”

Emily

Wow, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a podcast episode.

Heidi

The high is not a sphere of 111 gotta embrace this opportunity.

Emily

Okay, Uh, let me try again. Let’s embrace this opportunity of a new start by figuring out where we’re starting from.

Heidi

Yes. And in the words of a great philosopher, Ferris Bueller.

Emily

Oh, I’ve heard of him.

Heidi

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.

Emily

He was such an inspired thinker.

Heidi

Definitely ahead of his time. So let’s take a minute to look around. We have got eight reflection questions to help you get off to a strong start this year. You could just think about your responses. But if you really want extra credit, and we know we’ve got some high achievers out there, record your answers somewhere so you can reflect on your progress later.

Emily

Do it on paper. Yes, very thrilling.

Emily

Let’s start with our very favorite question, what is going well?

Heidi

And this is probably our favorite question because it’s the question that Emily and I need the most.

Emily

We love to jump into fix it mode. Before an event is even done. We’ve already got a running list of what we need to do to make it better next time.

Heidi

Yeah, we, we had a fondue night a couple weeks ago. And Emily and I were comparing notes on what to improve for next year before I had even left her house.

Emily

Yep, guilty. And look, that can be helpful. But if we don’t pause to celebrate what went well, hey, the fondue didn’t seem like it was gonna turn out but it did. And we did not even celebrate it. If you do that, then you run the risk of not ensuring those things happen in the future.

Heidi

Plus, only focusing on how to improve gets exhausting take that from our experience. We have all worked really hard. So let’s give ourselves the gold stars we deserve.

Emily

Dear teacher, friends, what is going well for you?

Heidi

Consider your classroom but also your life in general. Are you in a good place with meal planning? I hope. Or getting to bed on time?

Emily

Give us some pointers if you have that one in place.

Heidi

Maybe you made a new friend or you joined a book club.

Emily

If you’re in a place where it feels like nothing is going right, this question is even more important for you. So listen, please find something positive to hold on to. Even if it’s as small as the car starting this morning. Identifying the good gives us the strength to cope with the less than good.

Heidi

And you know, speaking of less than good. Our second reflection question is, what are your biggest headaches?

Emily

These are probably easy to identify unlike the wins.

Heidi

Once you have pinpointed your headaches, take a minute to really dive into what makes those particular things a headache to you. Maybe if you say teaching exactly what part of teaching is a headache. If it’s because you have a difficult class, that’s going to lead you to different solutions than if your headache comes from unrealistic curriculum expectations.

Emily

When you’ve clearly named the problem, you can start looking for solutions. Maybe you need to revamp your management system, maybe you need to split up the workload with your team.

Heidi

One thing that can probably help every teacher at this point of the year is to revisit your procedures.

Emily

Now unless this is your first episode here with us and if it is welcome. You are probably not surprised to hear us bringing up procedures, we seem to find a way to do that and every episode, because procedures make the world go round. It’s true in your classroom.

Heidi

And revisiting your procedures is an impactful way to hit the reset button when you come back to school in January. If you can only manage one thing, this is the one to do. Because effective classroom procedures help reduce behavior problems and will save you so much wasted time, it’s worth taking some intentional time now to review the procedures that aren’t working as well as they could be.

Emily

And we have some procedure review Google slides that are great for doing this mid year with your students. These are brand new and it is important to make revisiting your procedures part of your regular routine. It’s really hard to add something like that into the flow of your day a few times a year though.

Heidi

This is exactly the sort of thing that I would always tell myself I was going to do, I’m going to make it happen this year. And then totally forget to do it. Not because it’s hard to do but because it’s hard to add in things that aren’t part of your regular routine.

Emily

That’s why we wanted to automate this as much as possible. There are four different slide decks for reviewing procedures. Each deck has the same slides. It just mixes up the colors keep things interesting.

Heidi

You could set aside one slide deck for the end of term one, one for the end of term two or after winter break or any other time that you feel a review is useful. And then all you have to do is add the names of your most important procedures to the individual slides.

Heidi

Maybe you want to revisit how students come in in the morning or start their morning work or walk quietly in the hall. You just type those procedures into the slides and project them for the students.

Emily

For each procedure you ask your students to rate from one to five how well they’re meeting your expectations and then make a plan for improving or continuing to be awesome.

Heidi

If there are any other problem areas you are encountering in your classroom right now, take some time to identify them and pinpoint some solutions you could try.

Emily

The nice thing about these slides is you can do so much of the prep ahead of time, a nice little gift to your future self. Add your procedure names to the slide decks now and add a note on your calendar for what day you want to review them with your students easy peasy.

Heidi

You can find these rules and procedure review slides in our shop or in our TPT store. And we will link to them in our show notes.

Emily

Okay, on to our third reflection question, Where have you made progress on your back to school goals?

Heidi

It is so easy to feel like you never make any progress on your goals. I know I always think that I haven’t even made a dent when in reality, that is usually not true.

Emily

Take time to think back on the goals you set at the beginning of the school year. Chances are good that you’ve come a long way on those goals since school started.

Heidi

Maybe this year, you wanted to stay on top of your grading, or make positive contact with parents. And you’ve probably had some days when you have been really great at that. And also some days where you crashed and burned. That is life unfortunately.

Emily

But just because you haven’t done things perfectly doesn’t mean you haven’t been successful. We’re about progress, not perfection.

Heidi

At the very least reflect on how difficult some things were for your students at the start of the year, and celebrate how much better they are now at their two digit addition or cursive writing or hopefully following directions.

Emily

Yeah, pat yourself on the back because you are the one who helped them make that amazing progress. It’s easy in the day to day of teaching to feel like nothing ever improves. So take the time to appreciate the growth you and your students have made so far this year.

Heidi

Our fourth reflection question is, are your goals still serving you?

Emily

Now that we just reminded ourselves of our goals from the beginning of the school year, consider if those goals are still serving you.

Heidi

If the goals are still serving you, what can you do to continue working toward them? Where are you still falling short on your aims? What specific actions can you take to make progress towards your end goal?

Emily

For example, if you have a goal to leave as soon as contract time ends on Fridays, but you are not consistently meeting that goal. Can you identify what is keeping you late on Fridays? Maybe it’s running your copies for Monday because the copy room is always busy during your prep time on Fridays. If that’s the case, maybe you could work a little heads you can get your copies done earlier in the week.

Heidi

The answer isn’t always cut and dry. But chances are you can come up with at least a few ideas you can try to help you meet your goals.

Emily

If you consider your goals and decide that they are not serving you, what new goals do you have instead? Sometimes a goal you’re excited about at the start of the year turns out to be one you don’t feel as important anymore. It’s okay to abandon a goal that isn’t meeting your purpose anymore.

Heidi

If you want to abandon any goals that you no longer feel passionate about, think of some new goals to replace them. You can’t hit a target you can’t see. So it’s important to have something you’re working towards as a teacher.

Emily

Our fifth reflection question is a big one. How well are you taking care of yourself?

Heidi

There’s a reason that everyone seems to be talking about teacher burnout more and more these days. It’s because if you’ve noticed, this career has a way of taking over your whole life if you let it, it will take every ounce of effort you have available.

Emily

It’s so important to constantly be considering how well you are taking care of yourself as a teacher.

Heidi

Some specific questions you can use to reflect on this are are you getting enough sleep? You’re probably not honey, you need to get some better sleep. Are you eating during the school day? Do you have enough water and sustaining snacks available to you? Do you have healthy boundaries between your personal life and your work life? Do you have adequate time for yourself?

Emily

Taking good care of yourself is something you will probably always be trying to do better at. But remember that you can’t be the best teacher you can be if you’re not thriving as a human being.

Heidi

And more important than doing your job well, you should take care of yourself because you deserve to feel good. You are more than that job. And you don’t have to earn rest or care you are entitled to it because you matter no matter what.

Emily

Remind yourself of that fact every time the critical voice in your head tries to tell you a different story. You are the only one who can protect your well being. So take care of yourself the way you would one of your students.

Heidi

All right on to our sixth reflection question. This is a two parter. What do you want more of and what do you want less of?

Emily

Maybe another way to think about this is to ask what are your roses and what are your thorns? Roses are the things that light you up. Maybe that’s planning a huge novel study for your students, or inventing a new math game. Maybe it’s rock climbing at the gym or trying out a new cookbook. These are things we want more of in our lives.

Heidi

Now what do you want less of? These are the thorns that get in the way of enjoying life. Maybe it’s having to cook dinner every night or organizing parent teacher conferences. If you can totally cut out a thorn from your life, do it. But that’s probably not feasible for most thorns, unfortunately.

Heidi

So what can you do to minimize them instead? Could you spend a weekend making 15 freezer meals that you can dump in the crock pot? Could you get your grading done ahead of time, so parent teacher conferences aren’t so stressful?

Emily

And if parent conferences are a thorn for you, the way they were for me, we have put all our tips and tricks into a mini course to help take away some of the sting from that particular thorn. There’s a link to that in the show notes if you’re interested with that.

Heidi

All right, Emily, what’s our seventh question?

Emily

Our seventh reflection question is what does your classroom need?

Heidi

Chances are good that when you came back from break in January, you could maybe feel that your classroom needed to be refreshed. What specifically does your space need right now?

Emily

Maybe you need to clear clutter. That’s always the first place I start because clearing clutter makes a big impact. And it’s so rewarding. Plus,

Heidi

Plus, it is totally free.

Emily

Yes. You haven’t taken down the holiday decor yet. You want to get to that right away, too. And how are your supplies looking? Maybe you need to restock of pencils and glue sticks.

Heidi

Or maybe you just need to freshen things up with something new. You could add some new decor or find a new book or two for your classroom library.

Emily

We think new books are always the right answer.

Heidi

They have never been wrong for me. Or you could rearrange your room for a big refresh, you can do a totally new seating arrangement. Or maybe you want to get really wild and move your rug and shelves too, live in on the edge. Don’t feel like you have to do something big like that. But it might be just what you need. If your space is feeling flat.

Emily

We do have a digital seating arrangement tool to let you play around with different seating options before you commit to moving the desks. We’ll link to that in the show notes.

Heidi

And for our eighth and final reflection question we have, what are you looking forward to?

Emily

I find it so beneficial to always have something I’m looking forward to. You may already have some things you’re looking forward to like your spring break plans.

Heidi

But if nothing is immediately coming to mind, it’s time to create something to look forward to.

Emily

You can make a bucket list of fun activities you want to do with your students before the end of the year. Or you can start something new like adding Fun Friday to your schedule where the last 15 minutes of every Friday is game time or something new like that.

Heidi

You can also look forward by adding in some surprise and delight. This is a favorite strategy of ours. Surprise and delight is giving your students something special to do completely out of the blue, just because. Your students don’t have to earn it with good behavior. It’s just something you’re giving to them because you care about them.

Heidi

Some ideas could be a spur of the moment dance party or a spin of a prize wheel, or maybe letting students work under their desks for change.

Emily

And while it’s a surprise for the students, it doesn’t have to be a surprise for you. You can absolutely put this on your calendar, so you don’t forget to do it and you have something fun to look forward to.

Heidi

These are the sorts of things that we tell ourselves, we’ll remember. But with everything else we’re trying to keep track of, it’s no wonder that these little extras fly right out of our heads. So write it down, whether that’s on paper or digitally.

Emily

Another thing you can look forward to could be more professional development. Maybe there’s a workshop you want to take or a new teaching book you and your team are going to read together. Or maybe you want to invest in a new friendship with a co worker. Having friends at school makes it so much easier to go to school every day.

Heidi

But really, at the very least, give those spring break plans some attention. We gotta have something fun to look forward to, folks.

Emily

To recap, here are the eight reflection questions you can ask yourself as you start your 111 January journey slash classroom reset.

Heidi

What is going well? What are your biggest headaches? Where have you made progress on your back to school goals? Are your goals still serving you? How well are you taking care of yourself? What do you want more of and what do you want less of? What does your classroom need? And what are you looking forward to?

Emily

We’d love to hear what you’re looking forward to for the rest of this school year. Come join the conversation in our teacher approved Facebook group.

Emily

Now let’s talk about this week’s teacher approved tip. Each week we leave you with a small actionable tip that you can apply in your classroom today. This week’s teacher approved tip is make a plan for how you will start doing test prep.

Emily

I know you don’t want to think about this yet, but I promise it’ll be here before you know it. So what can we do to get it started Heidi?

Heidi

Research has found that spiral review is an incredibly impactful way to ensure learners can recall information when it’s needed, like you know when you’re taking a test.

Heidi

As you may already know, we love to include spiral review in our morning routines. But you can really do it at any time of your day, or even with your homework. We have spiral review morning work, and spiral review homework designed to help you easily build in that practice every day. And we will put some handy links to those in our show notes.

Emily

If you haven’t found a way to build review into your day yet, make a plan for how you can start doing it in January with either morning work or homework or some other way.

Heidi

For example, maybe one of your math centers each week reviews a topic you learned in the fall. Or maybe you want to do a big review game each Friday. Maybe your kids prepare videos to teach their classmates about tricky topics. Because we are starting this in January, we have time to make review engaging and creative. There are so many fun ways that you can start working this into your schedule.

Emily

Anything that gets kids to pull information from their memories, without the benefit of notes or books helps them retain that information in the long term. That is called retrieval practice. And it’s so important that we devoted our third podcast episode to explaining all about it. So you can go back and check that out if you will, all the details.

Heidi

You may also want to work on building on task stamina between now and those end of your tests. Working on increasing on task time, and celebrating persistence and frustration tolerance.

Emily

End of year tests are just a never ending source of joy, aren’t they?

Heidi

Yeah, Joy is the word I think of.

Heidi

To wrap up the show, we are sharing what we’re giving extra credit to this week. Emily, what gets your extra credit?

Emily

I’m giving extra credit to a cordless rechargeable screwdriver. It’s so handy to have one of these ready to go when you’re assembling things or need to do a bunch of small household tasks. I know I had one ages ago but who knows what happened to it finally snagged a new one. It comes in a case with all these different tips including like unusual ones that you sometimes need for like your ring doorbell or whatever.

Emily

Oh, that’s handy is such a treat to have handy whenever I need it. And it’s smaller and easier to grab for a quick job than one of those big drill drivers. I think they’re probably all created probably pretty much the same but I will link to the one I got in the show notes. What are you giving extra credit to Heidi?

Heidi

So my extra credit is for a glass pot. I will put a link to the one I got in the show notes. But there’s nothing particularly special about that one. I just got it because I like pretty and you could probably cook in a glass pot but I use it specifically for stovetop simmers. Being extra.

Heidi

If you don’t know what a simmer is, it’s where you put like oranges and cranberries and spices in a pot and you heat it on low for a few hours to make your house smell cozy and warm if warmth is a smell. But I used regular cooking pots for these similar pots in the past. But the glass pot makes it look so beautiful as well as smelling nice. It’s just really such a comforting little touch to add to a dreary winter day.

Emily

And it may be extra but my kids have informed me that we both are extremely extra especially at the holidays. So we’re just leaning into it.

Heidi

What a baseless accusation.

Emily

How dare they?

Heidi

That’s it for today’s episode. Don’t forget to use these eight reflection questions to help get your new year off to a strong start. And remember our teacher approved tip to start planning your test prep now, so that you are ahead of the game.

More About Teacher Approved:

Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to be the kind of teacher you really want to be? The Teacher Approved podcast is here to help you learn how to elevate what matters and simplify the rest. Join co-hosts Emily and Heidi of Second Story Window each week as they share research-based and teacher-approved strategies you can count on to make your teaching more efficient and effective than ever before.