Beating the Winter Slump

As an activity adviser, you probably relish the beginning of the school year. The energy of the student body is high, as students have their goals mapped out and are ready to tackle the many opportunities that await. The fall semester welcomes plenty of activities and traditions, such as homecoming, spirit week, and the official start of student council or National Honor Society events. There is an energy during those first few months of school that seems celebratory, as there always seems to be some major event for the school community to embrace. Generally, the attendance at meetings is high and everyone seems to be willing to lend a hand, be involved, and create new and fresh ideas.

After holiday break in December/January, you as the adviser probably return ready for the second half of the school year. However, you may encounter poorly attended meetings, spirit that is completely flat, and a leadership team in hibernation.

Through my years advising student council, I’ve come to recognize that this midyear slump can bring a rapid decline in attendance throughout the winter and result in very little programming in the spring. (I’ve even gone so far as to plan elections earlier in the year, with the hope that the next group of student leaders would be the ones to carry the torch of energy and spirit the full length of the school year.) When that didn’t work, I realized that the trick was changing the scope of the year during the dead of winter.

Treat the Second Half of the Year Like the First

At the beginning of the school year, I always host an executive board retreat and full student council lock-in (I lock the entire student council in the school for an overnight leadership training event that serves as our official kick-off to the year). Take your group back to revisit the goals that were set in the fall, and determine the next course of action. We almost treat the month of January as if it were September. The student council executive board comes together for another retreat, where we debrief the first half of the year and determine what worked and what didn’t. As a board, we begin planning for the second half of the year using this fresh start. This process allows us to maintain our group, our energy, and our commitment to make the school better. The retreat brings that essential burst of energy that the student council needs to engage the entire school community.

Upon the completion of the retreat, we embark on a full student council motivating event. The executive board brings the entire council back for the Winter Blast, where the full council focuses on really examining the student body. These essential questions guide the council to do their important work and planning: What is the climate like currently? What does our school need? How do we bring the energy back as if it were the first day? This event also allows students to come together and celebrate all that has been accomplished during the fall semester. Consider implementing a few of these ideas to slay that winter slump:

  1. Winter Meltdown Week: This week is the equivalent to homecoming week in the fall, and usually happens during the month of February. We focus on winter sports, allowing the entire school to come together to celebrate our winter athletes. The student council runs a program during lunch periods titled “Fire in the Café”—an event featuring games during the lunch period to engage all students. We have themed days, after-school programming, themed nights, at-home basketball and ice-hockey games, and the entire event culminates with a Winter Ball—a semiformal dance that mirrors our homecoming dance.
  2. March Madness Week: This week usually falls between our winter and spring sports season in March, and we highlight community service. Each day is a different service project to help get kids involved. For example, we host a food drive one day and allow the classes to compete over which class can bring in the most cans. We do a cleaning supply day to collect as much as we can to donate to the local shelter here in town. We incorporate events such as Mardi Gras and the NCAA to bring some element of excitement into the school at the same time. The week concludes with our ever-popular Battle of the Bands, a full competition to name Middleborough High School’s number one band. This event is a favorite, and it helps to engage a group of students that may not be interested in a traditional dance or other spirit event. We open up the auditorium and allow bands to play in front of a large crowd, which brings a great number of different groups of students into one place.
  3. Spring Fling Week: This spirit week takes place in April and revolves around our spring sports season. Again, we follow the same blueprint of themed days, activities, and celebrating the arrival of the season. We host big game events for our spring sports programs and host a Spring Fling Dance on a Saturday night in April. Promoting each athletic season allows equal time for each one and brings something for everyone.
  4. National Student Leadership Week: This is an essential piece to our spring, as it’s a great opportunity for student leaders to really step up and make a difference. We follow the unique theme assigned to the week and use it as a true celebration of the work that has been done during the year to make it unforgettable.

It can be a challenge to carry forward the energy and spirit an adviser feels when he or she starts a new school year. However, with some creativity, strategy, and the ability to hit the “restart button” during the slump of the school year, you can motivate the student body to feel rejuvenated and excited to make the remainder of the year extraordinary.

Paul Branagan is principal and student council adviser at Middleborough High School in Middleborough, MA. He also serves as the state executive director for the Massachusetts Association of Student Councils and was named the Warren E. Shull National Adviser of the Year in 2011.