How School Culture Can Fight the Midyear Slump How School Culture Can Fight the Midyear Slump

How School Culture Can Fight the Midyear Slump

by Lindsey Canny
Lindsey Canny Lindsey Canny Edtech Thought Leader
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January, February, and March are the Bermuda Triangle of a school year. The major holidays are over, everything is a cold, gray slush, and spring break hovers off in the distance like an unreachable horizon. As much as we hate it, though, bemoaning those months only makes them drag out even longer, and while nothing can make the clock move faster, there are a few things to keep in mind to make the time much more bearable.


Sometimes getting through rough patches takes a little bit of encouragement to get the juices flowing again, whether from within yourself or with an outside push.

Extrinsic motivation

The field of education is rife with extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is driven by the desire to either get a reward or to avoid a negative consequence. Some kids are motivated to do homework because they see the reward of a good GPA for their transcript, while some do it to avoid punishment that could come with a bad grade. When it comes to the slump of the late-winter months, find ways to work some reward into the daily grind, or look for long-term motivation: plan an incentive day or spirit week as a reward for work well done.

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation (the push you give yourself) tends to be more effective long-term compared to extrinsic motivation, given that an activity or task is being done just for the pleasure of doing it. That’s why hobbies are so enjoyable: we do it because we like it. When the long days of January and February hit, tap into that passion à la Google: work a 20% project or genius hour into the schedule. Basically, set aside time in the school day for students to pursue personal learning and passion projects as a way to inspire innovation and curiosity.


To borrow lyrics from Steppenwolf, motivation is a great way to get your motor running, but determination is how you head out on the highway. How many of us start a project and then abandon it just as quickly, even when the weather is nice and sunshiny?

Determination is often the missing second-half to being motivated, and for young people it’s hard to build a stick-with-it attitude when it comes to school. The key is to teach the skills and knowledge behind determination: developing attainable goals, problem solving for any obstacles to achieving those goals, creating actionable plans, and self-management.

Foster positivity

The spring doldrums are certainly a time when negativity can begin creeping in, but aiming for a positive mindset in small ways can keep the days looking a little bit brighter. Even finding one point of gratitude or affirmation for the day can create a silver lining on an otherwise gray day. Just make sure positivity stays genuine—sometimes there are bad days and trying to force happiness when it just doesn’t fit can start to become toxic positivity.

Cultivating genuine positivity can start with a few small day-to-day improvements: ask people about happy or hopeful things going on in their lives, or set aside a golden minute to acknowledge successes and contributions from staff.

When it’s not just the doldrums

Sometimes the problem isn’t just a matter of feeling a little down during the colder months. If “the doldrums” is manifesting as persistent apathy, helplessness, or deep sadness that prevents a person from doing basic daily tasks, it may be Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as seasonal depression.

If SAD is bad enough to interfere with a person’s job or home life, it may be necessary to see a doctor about going on medication, or to schedule some time with a counselor or therapist. The most important thing to remember about this process—whether for students, staff, or yourself—is that it requires a lot of grace and kindness. It is not weakness; it is health care.

This too shall pass

If, after all of this, the spring months still feel like being marooned in an ocean of crawling time, then we must keep swimming toward the shore. No matter how much of a slog January, February, and March can seem, the time has always and will always pass, until we get to do it all again next year.

Follow-up resource: School culture check-up

Use the school culture survey template to check in with your stakeholders.


Lindsey Canny Lindsey Canny Edtech Thought Leader
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