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Principal Helpline: “How Do We Keep the Learning Going Right Up to Winter Break?”

You aren’t Scrooge just because you’re still focused on learning

How Do I Make Sure Learning Happens More Than Holiday Parties?

Q.

It’s the holiday season in my elementary school—school holiday parties, concerts, movies, Secret Santas. It seems like the only thing missing in my school in December is learning. Not to be a Scrooge, but it seems that a lot more time is spent on holiday activities than on learning goals this month. Is there a way to find a better balance?

A.

I think your concern will resonate with a lot of elementary principals. Of course, there are lots of classroom activities that are holiday-themed but can help students learn or practice skills. Making holiday cards, for example, or reading or acting out a holiday story can accomplish both goals. Some areas of study may not lend themselves as easily to the season, but that doesn’t mean that students put away their math, science, or history books for the month.

The combination of classroom activities with practices for holiday concerts or plays minimizes academic time. If you’re not careful, during the last few days before break, lots of kids will be lying on the floor watching A Charlie Brown Christmas (again).

So how can you make sure kids are still getting appropriate instruction while doing special holiday activities? It may be too late to change the culture this year, so here’s my suggestion: Ask for a group of teacher volunteers (maybe one from each grade level) to meet with you in January to address the problem of balancing academics with holiday activities during December. One strategy I’ve found effective is to say upfront that you need a group of teachers for, say, three meetings in January. The meetings will last 40 minutes, and the group will disband at the end of the last meeting. Teachers may be more likely volunteer if they know they’re not “lifers.”

Set goals

Teachers can help calendar the month of December in terms of activities and learning goals and determine how each can be accomplished. The results can be shared at your next faculty meeting and then brought out again mid-November.

Build positive culture

You’ll want to work with teachers on this issue. December activities often create school culture. Changing the culture takes cooperation. It has a much greater chance at success this way than as a directive from the principal.

Be mindful

Various seasonal activities are fun, but your school is first of all a learning community. With all the holiday excitement inside and outside of school, it’s easy to get a little off track.

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Posted by Suzanne Tingley

Suzanne Tingley has been a middle/high school teacher, department chair, principal, and superintendent. She taught graduate classes in education administration for the State University of New York. She developed a series of education videos and has been a Scholastic Administrator blogger.

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