The days, finally, are getting longer. The sun sets a little later and rises a bit earlier, and each day reaches a little higher in the sky. These things happen. Our lives are filled with cycles—patterns of change that remain the same. Each winter has its spring. Weekdays have their weekends. For every inauguration, a close.
We’re built for cycles. They meet two basic human needs: we thrive on predictability, but we crave variety. Thankfully, reality complies. One reason I love teaching is because it provides such stark cycles. The beginning of the school year always feels fresh and new; the end is a fitting finale. There is always something just over the horizon, and that is a beautiful thing.
When an interruption disturbs our rhythms, we feel unsettled. This last year has been many things: tragic and frustrating, sometimes refreshing, occasionally inspiring. But amidst all those pandemic emotions we’ve felt… unsettled. The rhythms we rely on have been jarred.
Renewal in the Classroom
When people feel unsafe, it is important that they find a place to know what to expect. It’s been hard for teachers to make that place. Our own routines have been upset. We may not feel secure ourselves. Exhaustion hounds us.
And winter months are often hard in classrooms, even in the best of circumstances. The school year is far from its beginning and far from its end, like a pirate ship halfway across the ocean. Add on the stresses of the pandemic and it’s apparent: we need reliability, we need renewal, now more than ever.
How? Here are a few ideas:
Four Rituals of Renewal
Talk-o Tuesdays: We all need human connection. Tuesdays are, notoriously, the saddest day of the week. Give students something to anticipate by creating a space to discuss their interests, their hopes, and their worries; let them know you care about them as people. For advice on addressing tough topics, check out the Difficult Subjects guide.
Sing a Song: When I was a camp counselor, we sang a song at the end of every day — and when I talk with former campers it is the one thing they remember most. Pick something simple, positive, and expressive: anything from “You are my Sunshine” to “Hakuna Matata.” Or, pick a famous tune and make up your own class lyrics, then create a song with good old Microsoft Songsmith!
Never force students to sing, but invite them in. Create a time to share your song every morning when the day begins, or every afternoon when you’re going home. Your students will remember the ritual forever.
Get Gamified: In fifth grade, we turned in our workbooks by throwing them into a tray. We could choose easy shots for fewer points, or risk longer shots for higher scores. Each week, the class would try to beat its record from the week before. We’d cheer each other on, we’d help make sure everyone was responsible with their work, and we’d wake up every morning looking forward to the game.
Play is a wonderful way to make your days more special; game time creates a ritual where students know that work is followed by play.
Say Baboon: There is a strange magic in the word “baboon.” No matter what, saying it makes you feel just a little happier. You can use this magic in many ways: change your morning greeting from “Good morning,” to “Merry baboon, my friend.” Use it as a classroom reset when you need a fresh start—taking ten seconds to say “baboon” in silly voices can immediately change the mood. Allow members of your class to whisper it to each other when they pass in the hall, like a secret code.
It’s silly, of course, but the best things often are.
Choose Your Renewal
Renewal can happen in ways both large and small. By creating memorable, meaningful rituals in your classroom, you help your students feel the safety of knowing what to expect — but you also tap into their desire for novelty and engagement. That’s the kind of teaching they’ll remember forever.