5 Survival Tips for the Days Before Break

life preserver cast out to survivors

In the days leading up to a break, student excitement levels rise as their concentration falls. This can be a frustrating and exhausting time for teachers. Having a clear plan for how to handle those days can increase student engagement and focus. This engagement is the key to your successand survival!

These five tips have helped us before break, we hope they help you, too.

5. Maintain Established Routines and Expectations

Keep your routines going. Students may not act like they like it, but a strong routine provides a sense of calm and security. The more you treat classroom expectations as a constant element the less resistance or complaining you will receive.

4. Stay Calm and Positive

Keep yourself as calm as possible. Take deep breaths, think about what you like about the kids, count to ten; whatever you can do to soften your voice and slow down. Stay as positive and upbeat as possible. Students will reflect your mood so model what you want from them.

Know that the kids will be geared up for break. Anticipate this by planning the start and ending of rehearsals. The calmer and more structured the start of the rehearsal, the better it will all go. The end of rehearsals are often chaotic. We have our students return to their seats after putting away equipment and use this time for announcements and room organization. Give yourself enough time to wrap things up without a rush.

3. Useful Activities vs. Throw-Away Time-Fillers

Students quickly get bored of things they initially perceive as fun. Movies, kick-back days, free time, parties, etc. are fun initially but they may be experiencing similar activities in several classes.  A little of this goes a long way, and poor decisions often come from boredom. Mixing boredom with the excitement preceding a break is a recipe for discipline disasters.

2. Keep It Simple

Plan your class to use material and methods students are already familiar with. The days leading up to a break are not the time to introduce new concepts, make recordings for festival submissions, perform in-depth work,  or clean the extra difficult piece in the folder.

1. Use the Time Wisely, Keep Students Engaged

Here are several ideas we use to make good use of our time and add some variety and fun to the days leading up to a break.

  • Review old favorites. Let students request songs they would like to play again.
  • Create games and lighthearted contests using workbook exercises, scales or excerpts of concert music.  For example, compete to determine which team or section has the best technique, dynamics, tone, etc.
  • Listen to and preview new music for the upcoming concert cycle. Find repertoire on SmartMusic, JW Pepper or YouTube to share with the students.
  • Use technology:
    • We have introduced the online game Kahoot  to our classes and they go crazy over the most boring music theory topics! If you search Public Kahoots you will find shared games that are easy to edit for your own use. Ours are under the username TraughberBand – feel free to steal!
    • We also check out our school’s iPad cart and use music theory games. The game Notenames is a favorite.  
    • If you have a computer lab available, reserve it for your class and use Google Forms to create Terms & Theory Quizzes, Concert Reviews, Self-Reflections, Goal Setting, Surveys or Instrument Research assignments.

Prepared for Break

The final days before a break do not have to be a waste of time. A well-planned combination of calm, productivity, and fun can leave you and your students in a positive frame of mind as you go into your break.

Jessica ShieldsJessica Shields is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Music Education. A current member of the National Association of Music Education, she is classically trained on clarinet and enjoys playing jazz tenor saxophone.

Ms. Shields currently serves as a director of bands at Traughber Jr. High in Oswego and is enjoying her fourth year of teaching as a Traughber Panther!

Rachel MaxwellRachel Maxwell currently serves as the director of bands at Traughber Jr. High School and as the Jr. High performing arts and band coordinator for the Oswego, IL School Dist. #308. She has taught music ed. courses at VanderCook College of Music and North Central College and has been a guest conductor, clinician and adjudicator at many music camps and festivals.

Under her direction the bands at Traughber JHS have received national acclaim and have performed at The Midwest Clinic (as a clinic presentation and rehearsal lab group), the Illinois Music Educators Association All State Conference (1999, 2008, 2010, 2014), the University of Illinois Super-state Festival and at the ASBDA 2004 National Convention.

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