I have noted that conversations with students who are finding school challenging, often revolve around sustained effort and motivation. A common reflection by students is that the year seems so long, and how can they maintain their focus and produce their best work over a sustained period of 10 months. This is especially significant during the dark days of January and February, when the winter doldrums are at their worst.
I have found that many students become less anxious or overwhelmed if we look at the calendar as a series of small periods of work punctuated by breaks in their routine of study and preparation. We know that content, skills and knowledge are best learned when broken into small digestible chunks, but if we also think of the school year in terms of small digestible chunks, students often realize that intense, focussed effort for relatively short periods is doable. Too often, our students look at the year in relation to our three reporting periods, or worse, a single event of 10 months; instead, if students look at the long weekends and holidays as endpoints to sustained intense efforts, this can be useful in maintaining motivation and engagement.
As we return from the break, I have spoken to students about looking forward to when the next major break occurs in their schedule, and present that break as a reward for strong, persistent effort. Again, I see too many students that look to long weekends or holiday breaks as times to ‘catch-up’ which in itself may make it easier to procrastinate and become less focussed; really, if we can turn our perspective around and see these breaks as rewards for completion of work and sustained, quality effort, students may instead focus on getting work done on time. Students that have been able to make this thinking shift have identified that as a bonus, they are able to really enjoy the breaks that occur regularly in the year and not feel the inevitable stress of trying to complete during holidays or long weekends when family priorities and other distractions get in the way.
For the remainder of the year from our Winter Break onward, the next major break occurs mid-February when a teachers’ professional day, February 16th is combined with the annual reading break on Friday, February 17. This is followed just 3 weeks later by spring break. From our return on March 26th, it is only 2 weeks until Good Friday and a four day weekend on April 6th and 9th. Then it is a 6 week push into May where another four day weekend consists of a Friday Pro-D day, May 18th, and Victoria Day on Monday, May 21st. This leaves a few short weeks, three and a half to be exact, until the last day of classes and exams.
When I point these details of the calendar out to students, their usual response is one of initial surprise, but quickly followed by the realization that “I can do that!” The year seems shorter in their minds, but more importantly, students are able to see that if they can stay focussed and engaged for short periods of time, they can both achieve and reduce the stress associated with managing time and completing work.