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Pedagogy in the Springtime: An Ode to Seasonal Teaching

Springtime in schools is exciting. And exhausting. As we prepare for end-of-year celebrations, performances, and rituals for closure, we must summon the same level of stamina we had when the school year began. Sometimes the light at the end of the school-year tunnel allows us to press forward until the finish. Sometimes the growth of our students inspires us to manage those final weeks of youth bouncing off the walls. Yet we also need to acknowledge, with care and honesty, that we are tired. 

When I was in my first years of teaching, I always dreaded the slog between spring break and Memorial Day. Typically, we had about six to eight full weeks with no breaks. And as the sun came out and the weather got warmer, students increasingly struggled to be in the classroom. I was afraid I'd get eaten alive because I wasn't sure I had the energy to maintain my class routines with the same meticulousness as the fall or when a new semester began. And sometimes these fears became self-fulfilling prophecies.

Then I thought of seasonal eating.

People will often find me saying there is a fine line between an "Ah-ha!" and a "Well-duh!" moment, and this was one of them. 

In the springtime of my early teaching woes, I was at a local restaurant with a friend, and I ordered the house green salad. I noticed that the salad came with seasonal strawberries on it--gorgeous, tiny, local strawberries whose ruby red popped against the greens. They were sprinkled sparingly amidst the lettuce (just enough to complement and add flavor to the dish), and they were delicious. 

Then I thought of my teaching.

I wondered if we teachers were as seasonal with our pedagogy as farm-to-table restaurants were with their cuisine. While we decorate for holidays and acknowledge various times of the school year, do we plant the sorts of pedagogical seeds that sprout different types of instruction from fall to winter to spring? 

Sometimes the ruts we get ourselves into during the springtime are more about our teaching than the inevitability of the school calendar. We know with a high level of certainty that rainy days make students nuts, that winter holidays create excitement and distraction, that spring festivals and sunshine invite good cheer (and a healthy dose of hormones for older students). So how can we make our classrooms places where our pedagogy matches the needs of our students as they (and we) weather the final weeks of school?

We need more tiny strawberries to complement the salad days of spring--practical tweaks to make our teaching more seasonal. 

Below are some suggestions for how we can provide ourselves with the energy to make it to Memorial Day and beyond--and make our classrooms more dynamic for our students at this time of the year:

  • Add just one new routine. In previous posts, I've written about how it's never too late to co-create classroom culture, and spring certainly is a time to regroup. Perhaps introduce a novel routine for those final weeks. Ask each student to set a short-term goal each week and post those goals in a visible place. Begin with a sentence starter such as "This week I aspire to..." or "This week I will..." and have students determine what they hope to achieve by Friday. Don't be afraid to do this activity yourself, too. Thinking short-term allows students and teachers to stay more present to the classroom process rather than counting down the days until summer.
  • Create time for movement outdoors. Many teachers know embodied learning is good for the brain, and sometimes movement for the sake of movement is just as healthy as an academic task. Students are always asking to go outside, so perhaps a five-minute walk in the sunshine is just what they and you need to re-set and re-focus. For those that have the good fortune of gorgeous weather, having class outside every once in while can also be a delightful treat--as long as the lesson invites a high level of engagement.
  • Have students do the teaching. Springtime is growth season, and at this point in the year, students often show how much they have learned. Whether students are soaring or still struggling, they have spent enough time in the care of our classrooms to at least know the routines and habits that help them learn best. Perhaps once a day or week, ask students to share a learning strategy, teach a skill, or lead a lesson. In this vein, students will remain responsible and engaged in their learning. Teachers can keep the stakes high by asking the students to apply their skills to authentic contexts.
  • Believe in the "outro"--create space for reflection. We put a lot of time and energy into easing students into the school year, and sometimes we forget how much we need to ease students out of the school year as well. For classes bound to a finals schedule, consider ways to make the last weeks of instruction a balance between work and down time; students learn best when they can relax a bit amidst the stress. Regardless of grade and age, the end of the year is a good time for rest and reflection even within the rigors of our curricula. Asking students to spend some time reflecting on how they are doing or writing and sharing what they learned (maybe even in a whole-class discussion) is often energizing for students and teachers alike. Time for reflection also allows us to adjust our instruction to meet the needs of our students in these final weeks.
  • Eat well, exercise, and take time off for you. Find some delicious seasonal fruit as a mid-afternoon snack; take a walk during your prep time; or plan one activity a week (before or after school) that allows you to get some fuel for the final weeks. If you have been hanging onto those personal days, now is a good time to treat yourself to a Ferris Bueller experience (sleep in, visit a museum, take in a ball game, eat at a tasty restaurant). It's important we treat ourselves as well as we hope to treat our students.
I am sure many of you already are doing right by your students during this time of year, so feel free to add a comment and provide your own suggestions for successful teaching in the spring. 


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