Scanlan Center for School Mental Health
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New Year, New Start: How to Make the Transition Back to Learning Less Stressful  

Kaitlin Poock
Kaitlin Poock
written by

Kaitlin Poock, LMSW

Educator Wellness

Picture this:  It’s the night before the first day back after winter break, you are cuddled up on your couch, enjoying the snow falling outside when suddenly, a wave of worry rushes over you. Your stomach flutters and your heart races as you grasp the fact that tomorrow you must go back to the classroom. Worry overload sets in as you realize that nothing is prepped or ready to go. 

Have you ever been in this situation? As a child of two educators, I have seen the reality of this all too well.  

Winter break is great. It is needed for our well-being and to begin the new year refreshed and reenergized, but sometimes, it can be stressful.  

I hear you. And I want to help you make the most out of your break. 

Instead of hitting the panic button the night before your return to the classroom this year, try the below tips and tricks to shift from worry to excitement and feel prepared for a smooth transition when returning from winter break.  

The below tips span BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER winter break.  

Things to do BEFORE break to help you have a smooth transition back 

1) Plan out your lessons for after break 

I know what you’re thinking…how am I supposed to plan for after break right now when I am already behind on grading and my sugar-filled students are running around the room with excitement?!? 

It seems impossible and hard to do – but if you can put a lil prep work in now, your future self will thank you…trust me. Don’t try to plan all in one go. Try planning a little every day in the weeks leading up to winter break. 

2) Clean your classroom

There is nothing better than coming back from break to a clean classroom.  

Make sure you take care of your area too – not just the students’. You deserve a clean slate when heading into winter break. Consider this part of your environmental wellness; research shows that having a space that is organized and clean can help de-stress and reduce anxiety.  

Make a game out of cleaning with your students before break. They will have fun, AND your classroom will be sparkling clean.  

Check out this website for some creative ideas when it comes to classroom cleaning! 

3) Set automatic replies on your email to ‘Out of Office’

This is your time to be away from the classroom…so don’t check your email. 

I know this is easier said than done, but turning on your automatic replies to let people know that you are out of the classroom can ease your worries of not checking your email.  

When it comes to emails, most things can wait. And if it can’t, they will end up finding another way to get a hold of you.  

Ready to take it a step further? Try leaving your laptop at school so you are not tempted to check your emails! 

Things to do DURING break to help you have a smooth transition back


Find what makes you happy and do that. Spend your break resting and recharging your body, mind, and soul.  

Here’s just a short list of ideas to do over winter break: 

  • Visit with family and friends 
  • Work on a project that keeps getting pushed to the backburner 
  • Try cooking/baking a new recipe or a family recipe 
  • Read a book for fun 
  • Get some fresh air (Yes, you can play in the snow too!)  
  • Play your favorite board game 
  • Take a nap 

Need more ideas? Here’s a list of 35 things to do on break! 

Need inspiration on how to recharge or WHY teachers should spend time recharging and finding renewal? Check out this amazing article.

Things to do AFTER break to help you have a smooth transition

1) The night before the first day back

  • Pick out your favorite outfit and get it ready to go. This will help the morning run more smoothly. 
  • Pack a nutritious lunch. Having a plan as to what you are bringing for lunch will save you time in the morning. Consider including protein, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats for optimal energy throughout the day. Add a sweet (or salty) treat in there as well.  
  • Do something that brings you joy and makes you feel good (whatever this may look like). The ‘after-break scaries’ can creep up – try to engage in self-care to help your mind, body, and soul. During the day, this could mean drinking a warm cup of your favorite tea, moving your body, working on a puzzle, meal prepping for the week, organizing your closet, volunteering, going to brunch with friends or family, watching your favorite show or sporting event, or just being.  
  • Plan for something fun to do after you finish your first day back. Sometimes you just need a lil motivation to make it through the day.  

2) The morning of the first day back

  • Eat breakfast and drink water (and maybe some coffee wouldn’t hurt 😉). 
  • Get to school a couple of minutes earlier than you normally do. This can be nice as you now have some extra time to orient yourself back into the classroom and catch up with your coworkers. 
  • Engage in conversation with your students as they walk through the door. I’m sure you missed them, and they missed you. Take some time to chat with your students about how their break went and what they are looking forward to in the new year.  

These tips and tricks are here to help you. NOT to make you feel shame or guilt if none of these things occur! Give yourself grace…you’re doing the best you can with what you have.  

Did any of these tips/tricks resonate with you? What do you do to make the transition smooth after winter break?