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By Dr. Giani Clarkson

I love sports and as an avid sports lover, I enjoy all the elements that make athletics enjoyable. I’ve played sports my entire life. I have won games and lost them as well. However, there is one big lesson that I’ve adhered to, which is translatable from sports to the classroom, and one that every coach I’ve had the pleasure of being mentored by has repeated. Even when I watch a sporting event on TV, the announcers all express the same sentiment: What adjustments are the coaches and teams going to make during halftime to ensure their success? As many students across the country are headed into their “halftime,” better known as winter break, we should all consider the best use of this downtime. 

Halftime is not just a break for the players but a time for some reflection on what went well and what improvements one can make for the second half of the “game”. Those small adjustments are the big changes that are needed to gain success in winning the game. But, unfortunately, the trap many parents and s succumb to is believing that winter break is solely about resting and socializing when it really should be one part rest and one part self-evaluation to make sure that your student is set up for success this year. Let’s try something different with our winter break this year. Instead of it being a time of lounging around in PJs, eating holiday food, and watching movies, let’s balance it out with some self-analysis, and preparation to finish the school year strong.

Before your student returns to the classroom, have a conversation with them regarding how well they feel their first semester went and what are some areas of improvement they can strive to accomplish. Fair warning – this conversation will be challenging for some s, especially if your child historically struggles in school. However, I promise you that on the other side of this discussion is clarity that you and your child can benefit from. You’ll need something to write with and the ability to have honest conversations with your child.

First, have your student write down all of their classes that they had during the first semester. I’d recommend using Excel or Google Sheets to enable a formatted document that is shareable between you and your child. 

Next, have your student write down the grade they expected to achieve at the end of the semester. Make sure this question is answered honestly. Next, compare the expectation with the reality and discuss the contrast between the two. Some of the reasons given may be that your child believes they’re not good at a particular subject, or they heard that their teacher or class was hard, or, conversely, they really enjoy a particular subject and thought they’d do well. Whatever the rationale, make sure they answer this question honestly. The following [and most difficult] step is to have your student write down what grade they achieve in that class and encourage them to think about why they received that mark. Explain what it means to be accountable and ensure your child understands why they received that grade. It is also important to deter the child from blaming the teacher for their shortcomings. On the contrary, students will sometimes sell themselves short by expressing that the teacher somehow made the work easy, when, in actuality, the child understood the work and did what was expected of them. 

During this accountability process, have your child start every sentence with the word “I”. For example, I could have studied harder for the test, I was not consistently prepared for class, I did not complete my homework assignments on time, or I did not arrive to class on time very often. On the flip side, there may be positive explanations for why your student received the grade they did during the first semester. In this case, their reasoning may look like this: I asked for help when I needed it, I attended tutoring after school, I made sure to do the nightly reading, or I worked to my fullest potential. The next important step of this process is to have your student determine and write out a plan of action. Once again, these sentences need to start with the word “I.” The key is accountability.

An excellent tool to use in the planning process are S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for the following: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. The goal is for your child to have high standards but not at the risk of burnout or lack of balance. Ultimately, you are a significant part of the support system that your student needs to achieve ultimate success. Reassure them that you are there to support them and are invested in their achievements. Allow them to specify what they need from you as their parent. They may act indifferent at the time, but I assure you that this dialogue will mean the world to them. 

Congratulations, you’ve now made it through the halftime show. These tools and suggestions should help make course corrections and needed adjustments to get your child back on track or to reinforce already sound habits. Feel free to iterate gentle reminders or suggestions to nudge your student back on track should they become distracted or unfocused.

After completing this exercise with your student, you both have now recognized what halftime adjustments need to be made for success during the second semester. If ever your student gets off track during the second semester, you can easily direct them back to your halftime game plan. The halftime game plan works as an accountability exercise for your student. There is no need for them to blame anyone else for their failures or successes when they have recognized what their personal expectations are. You can easily set gentle reminders for your students when they are busy on TikTok or have to play one more game of 2K. You can easily just say to them – are you being accountable to the halftime game plan? 

Of course, if additional conversations need to occur with the teacher regarding your ‘s success, you should have those conversations immediately. However, when you meet with your child’s teachers, you can always reference the halftime plan and what you discussed during the holiday break. You could also provide a copy of your halftime plan to your child’s teachers, which would ensure everybody is reading from the same sentence in the same paragraph in the same book.


I’ll leave you with this – education is not just about ensuring that students receive and retain knowledge. It is also about how they deal with successes and failures in real-life situations. The holiday halftime planning activity is a great way to teach children how to evaluate, plan, correct, and reinforce their habits and actions to set them up for long-term success. Adjustments are part of life and key to a growth mindset. So, this holiday season, give your child the gift of being adaptable, but not breakable when a failure occurs, and teach them the importance of celebrating every success.