How to Keep Your Students Focused During the Holidays

Student sitting at a desk with a computer and notebook open in front of them, image used for Robert Peters educator blog on how to keep students focused during the holidays

The holidays can be a wonderful chance to indulge in festivities, cultural experiences and more, but it can be difficult to keep your students focused on learning with all this excitement and their anticipation of the holidays. Many times, students of all ages and grade-levels are starting to tune-out and look towards the coming holidays and having some time off of school. These feelings are totally natural; you’re probably looking forward to the holidays too.

It’s important to remember that your students are children and budding young-adults, not robots. By recognizing this fact, and accepting that you cannot change it, it becomes much easier to instead tailor your teaching and lessons to this development. Now, let’s talk about some ways you can use the holiday spirit to keep your students engaged, focused, and progressing in their educations.

Maintain classroom structure

Don’t throw your rules and established expectations out the window. You can’t expect your students to not be distracted during the holidays, but students thrive on stability. Everyone, yourself included, performs better when previously established norms are followed.

Continue to assign your regular weekly or bi-weekly assignments, have homework due at the normal dates, etc. Don’t abandon classroom structure you’ve established, use it! Keeping with the same routine can help students stay focused because they know what’s expected of them.

Tailor your lessons to the season

The easiest way to keep your students focused and working hard is to tailor your lessons to the holiday at hand. Don’t ignore the fact that Christmas is right around the corner, embrace it!

Regardless of your subject-matter, you can find a way to tie it into the season’s festivities into at least some lessons. Your students will appreciate the much-needed break from “hard content”, and the creativity these assignments usually employ. Try to incorporate some fun activities that are relevant to the holidays that the students will enjoy while also learning something new.

Keep your pace, don’t overwork

It’s important to continue teaching at your normal pace. Don’t suddenly pile on two-weeks worth of work and expect your students to actually do it over their winter break — it’s called a break for a reason. They’ll only be miserable before and after break and you’ll have to deal with this attitude.

Keep this idea in mind during the rest of the school year. Make sure you get through key chapters and lessons with enough time to spare so you’re not cramming before the holiday!

A final word on holidays

Remember that holidays are a special time in every culture. Embrace this, and use it as a break from the factory-like routine of schooling. Enhance your lesson plans, ask your students what their plans are and share yours, and remember – you deserve a break, too. Use this time to recharge and revitalize, the year isn’t over yet!

Why Cell Phones Should Be Allowed in Schools

Person with backpack looking down at a cell phone, image used for Robert Peters blog on whether or not cell phones should be used in school

Should cell phones be allowed in schools? This question has existed for almost as long as cell phones have been around. Many schools outright ban the technology and tell students not to use their phones at all during the school day. While many districts have relaxed this stance, there is still the question of whether or not students should be allowed to use cell phones during class. Many argue that there are great benefits to using phones and various apps can be used that enhance the learning experience. Others argue that the distraction of using phones outweighs any benefits and there are no ways to monitor what students are doing on their phones. Here are some of the many benefits to allowing students to use cell phones for educational reasons and I think these outweigh any potential issues.

Educational apps

The largest benefit of using phones in class is that students can download educational apps or look up information while working on a project. Students can also take pictures to send to other classmates or to reference later or even video chat with an absent student. There are many apps available for specific subjects that serve as study aids, such as making flashcards or learning a language. Even if you don’t want to use cell phones in your classroom, educate students about apps they can use on their own to facilitate deeper learning.

Students feel less rebellious

When students are told that under no circumstances are they allowed to use their phones, it often leads to rebellion and resentful feelings. While you should hold your position of authority and not give in to students’ whims, you can certainly allow them some time to use their phone which makes for more satisfied students.

Useful for emergencies

Whether or not you let students use their cell phones in class, it’s incredibly helpful to have them at school. Students can easily contact their parents if an emergency arises or reach out for help. If there’s an emergency at home, parents can reach their children through a simple call or text. Let your students know that if there is a reason they must use their phone, it’s okay to let you know there’s an emergency.

Preparation for the real world

Students certainly change between their teenage years and when they enter the workforce, but they’ll still have cell phones. For many jobs, you’re able (and often encouraged) to use your phone whenever and can check it as often as you like. It’s important that students learn self control and do not always have to check their phones, but also know how to utilize it in ways that benefit their current task, whether in the classroom or the workplace.

How to avoid issues

Even though I believe cell phones should be utilized in the classroom, there are certainly risks, such as students becoming too distracted. Experiment by only allowing phones out during a certain portion of class and require that students use them for the task at hand. Make sure they know if they’re not using their phones to further class, you’ll stop allowing them to have their phones out at all. Ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to allow students to use cell phones in your class and how you plan to monitor the use of them.

6 Ways to Teach Students Professional Skills

Young woman sitting at a desk looking bored, wearing a blazer, image used for Robert Peters blog about teaching students professionalism

We often see articles about developing professionalism in teachers and how important it is to conduct yourself in a professional manner. Cultivating professionalism in teachers is incredibly important, but so is teaching students the value of professionalism. Many students likely do not understand what professionalism is and haven’t ever thought of cultivating it. Professionalism is learned once students begin looking for jobs after finishing school, which can lead to significant amounts of stress and a sense of unpreparedness for the students. Here are some ways teachers can teach their students professional skills and prepare them for life after school.

Do a resume workshop together

Depending how old your students are, it might be the perfect time in their lives to work on a resume with them. Most students are not taught how to craft an attractive resume and resort to learning this skill on their own from conducting online research. Simply taking one or two days over the course of the year to work on a resume with them can leave them with something tangible they’ll benefit from later on in life. Remind them to regularly update it and note any new formatting guidelines.

Have students conduct mock interviews

Your students might not be excited about this prospect, but if you think it could benefit them, hold some mock interviews. Consider starting a professional development club and offer after school meetings for interested students to work on their interviewing skills. Create lists of questions for students to ask each other or even be the interviewer yourself. Give students feedback on their answers and how they can do even better.

Share your professional development

A huge part of being a teacher is participating in professional development, so share your journey and experiences. Tell students about opportunities you’ve had and even a time you messed up or some aspect of professionalism that you didn’t know for a long time. Students want to hear about your learning experiences and will likely connect more with you afterwards.

Work on time management techniques

A huge hurdle for many people is their time management skills. Few people have completely mastered time management, so consider taking time to offer tips to your students on how they can improve theirs. Advise them to use a planner or calendar, especially if your school gives them out at the beginning of the year. There are also plenty of smartphone apps or Google extensions for time management and productivity that students can take a look at.

Be a professional role model

One of the best steps you can take to teach your students professionalism is by practicing it yourself. Always remain professional and lead by example. Avoid losing your temper or becoming too close to students. Be professional toward coworkers and everyone else you work with so your students see what professionalism looks like.

Highlight important professional traits

If you feel like your students would be interested, consider purchasing books on etiquette or professionalism for the classroom. It’s likely that the school library has some as well. Teaching students from a young age how to properly conduct themselves in a professional setting and appear mature and confident can benefit them in all areas of their lives.

Rural Schools Consider Switching to a 4-Day School Week

Image of blank notebook with pencil, small pencil sharpener, and shavings on the sheets. Used for Robert Peters blog about rural school considering switch to a 4-day school week.

Recently, rural schools across the country have begun switching to a 4-day school week. It’s unclear whether or not reducing the days students spend in school is beneficial in the long run; there hasn’t been enough time for schools using this type of school week to show a clear outcome. Right now, the schools making the switch are all rural schools located in the Midwest; 88 districts in Colorado, 43 in Idaho, 30 in Oregon, and nearly half of the districts in Montana. The administrators of these schools believe that this change will benefit the districts in various ways, but that hypothesis remains to be determined.

How does it work?

The plan for the 4-day school week looks like this: students spend slightly more time at school each day, which can be anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes, then they use Friday for more extracurricular or family activities. School districts originally thought that cutting a day from the school week would lead to lower costs, but that idea has been mostly disproven. A main reason districts are attempting the change is because they lack funding and attention from the federal and state governments. Rural areas are scrambling for ways to cut costs and a 4-day school week seems like the best solution. Many districts made the switch on a trial basis, but the community and students view it as a permanent change; it’ll be challenging to move back to a 5-day school week after everyone has adjusted to only four days.

What are the benefits?

Some studies have also shown positive results, particularly regarding children’s academic performance and cutting costs for some districts. Some school districts have seen significant changes regarding students’ scores. The main concern is saving money and many report that moving to a 4-day week allowed them to reach this goal. Another benefit of a 4-day school week comes from families having more time to spend with their children and also more time to run errands and take children to doctor’s appointments or on vacations, without pulling them out of school.

What are the drawbacks?
Though many positive studies exist, for some districts, there was not a noticeable difference in academic performance or financial savings for other schools. The change hasn’t necessarily been detrimental to these two factors, but it hurts the community in other ways. While most students and school employees like the idea of a 4-day school week, many parents are against it. Families with two working parents must find someone to watch their children on their new day off, which costs more money. Children may not have food or heat at home and they have one less day they can rely on a meal and warm environment, where they’re being nurtured. The switch works for a subset of families and can be extremely beneficial to them, but it’s also important that other families who don’t have the means to provide childcare of enrichment for their children on the new day off aren’t overlooked.

5 Ways to Get Students Outside

Image for Robert Peters blog post about how to get students outside

It’s been an unusual winter, but the sun is finally out and the weather is starting to get warmer. Students sense spring is here and know that means the end of the year is fast approaching. It can be difficult to keep students focused during class, when they’re stuck inside and can see the sun shining right outside the window, all while eagerly anticipating summer vacation. Taking your students outside for a period of time will help them get rid of their anxiousness to be out of the classroom and it’s healthy to get some fresh air. Read about some of the ways you can incorporate time outside into your lesson plans  to satisfy your students and also cultivate learning. You’ll like being outside too!

Give them a head start on homework

If it fits into your class schedule, plan to give them some time to start their homework during class. Students will focus because they know they’re working ahead and will have less to do that night and they’ll also be accomplishing something for the class. You can also head outside to let students start a worksheet they’re supposed to finish in class or to quickly review work from the day before. If students will be sitting and working on something anyway, you might as well let them do it outside.

Offer free reading time

While this activity depends on the type of class you have, students will almost always have something they need to read, whether it’s a novel, play, article, or research. Take your class outside while they read. If you’re reading together as a class, that is another great opportunity to move outside, so students can sit in a circle and read through their assignment together.

Create a writing prompt

Craft a writing prompt students can complete outside. Have them composes a poem about nature or write what they observe as they sit outside and listen. Encourage everyone to spend a few moments silently listening to everything around them; you’re helping them with their observational skills as well. If they’d spend time in class writing, it’ll be easy to let them do this task while outside.

Make it class specific

You can take any one of these ideas and tweak it to best fit your class. You can also do certain activities depending on what subject you’re teaching. If students are learning about ecology, teach them local plants and animals, then head outside and see if you can find any. For a literature class, spend time reading famous literature about nature, then let students try to write their own from inspiration while being outside.

Play a game

If you can schedule free time into your class schedule, try this idea! It’s important to stay focused on class work and accomplish what needs to be done, but sometimes students just need a break. Figure out a fun, easy activity that allows students to spend time outside, interact with one another, and also move around. Once you go back inside, your students will be much more focused on learning after working off excess energy.