As the Seasons Change, Teachers Change
The seasonal changes are well underway; the initial excitement and chaos at the beginning of the school year is fading. I noticed that as the season brings in its autumnal colors and cooler temperatures, there is a noticeable climate shift in my students, faculty, and staff. In a 2005 study, Matthew Keller and his colleagues conducted three, independent studies on 605 participants. In examining the participants’ responses, they found a connection between mood, cognition, and the weather (Grohol 2008). They concluded that pleasant weather, represented by a higher temperature or barometric pressure, produced a higher mood, better memory, and broadened cognitive style. Thusly, people were happier and more alert during the spring, because the time spent outside increased. However, the studies showed the converse effect for the other seasons. Oddly enough, hotter weather was associated with a lower, less jovial mood in the summer (Keller, et al. 2005).
Keller (2005) and his associates’ results were consistent with findings on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); the SAD research also states that pleasant weather improves people’s moods and heightens their cognitive abilities in the spring. The belief is that people are deprived of feel good weather during the winter months (Grohol 2008).
This insight is vital information for principals, because by understanding the impact of seasonal change on teachers, it is easier for us to recognize the changes that will inevitably occur in the classroom. A teacher’s mood—good or bad directly affects instruction.
At the beginning of the school year, when students and teachers are full of energy and enthusiasm—both seem prepared to take on any challenge the day, the month, or semester may bring. Students are eager to master every standard; they are eager to pass every pop quiz and every unit test, while teachers are prepared to differentiate instruction and deliver meaningful bell-to-bell, student-centered lessons. However, many do not realize that the sunny skies, combined with the comfortable temperatures facilitate the conditions for them to remain in a constant state of homeostasis.
The cooler winds blow the creativity and verve out of spunky students and talented teachers. As the fall settles in, so does a lethargic mood. The classroom is less energized, and educators and students show signs of lethargy. One can see the sadness in their countenance and demeanor. Students become restless during this time of year, and their good behavior wanes. They are less focused, and they are prone to make poor decisions. After analyzing three years of behavioral data at my school, I inferred that discipline referrals were highest beginning in November; they did not taper until March—when spring begins.
Although autumn still offers sunshine on many days, the lower temperatures and the increased rainfall during the season has a negative impact on one’s mood. It causes teachers and students to be melancholy. The entire school has a subdued feeling during the long, dreary seasons.
Light and Listlessness
The days gradually shorten as seasonal changes continue to lower temperatures and increase rainfall. As the season saps away a little more sunshine each day, and the climate continues to shift, teachers are often driving to and from school in the dark. Therefore, the amount of daylight a teacher sees during the autumn and winter months is greatly reduced. When the sun is out, most educators find themselves confined to their classrooms, with their students—who do not get the benefits of sunlight either. Teachers and students meander listlessly through the halls and through their lessons, unaware of how their lethargic moods are negatively impacting student achievement and personal efficacy. The change to the amount of sunlight one receives has a powerful impact one’s mood as well. A lack of direct light can cause depression; even if a teacher or student does not slip into depression, they often become more subdued.
Teachers and students alike may exhibit symptoms of Sadness and Depression (SAD). SAD is characterized by feelings of sadness and depression that occur in the winter months when the temperatures drop and the days grow short. This specific form of depression is often associated with excessive eating or sleeping and weight gain. Women are twice to three times more likely to suffer from the winter blues than men.
Therefore, when teachers or students show signs of depression during the autumnal months, these symptoms could be weather-related. A depressed teacher may not have the ability to manage the classroom, so the stability that was present at the beginning of the year will disappear, and the positive mood of the classroom will dangerously shift during the winter months.
Self-help for Winter Depression
There are many effective treatments for winter depression, some of which can be self-administered. Increasing one’s daily exposure to as much natural light as possible can be beneficial to many. Whenever one has the opportunity to receive more sunlight during the winter months, one should do so. Simple things that are normally taken for granted such as taking a walk through the school during lunch, or while on planning; sitting next a window in a classroom; exercising near a window or even outdoors when possible, can help boost one’s energy during the autumnal equinox. Although it may be difficult to implement, maintaining a schedule that fosters a balance between work and one’s social life, as well as developing and sustaining a healthy lifestyle will keep the depression at bay until the vernal seasons. A regular pattern of sleep is paramount.
Additionally, if possible set the bedroom lights on a timer; have them to come on a half-hour before the alarm clock sounds. This will help to wake at the same time every morning; waking in light rather than darkness will lighten the mood, and set a positive tone for the day.
According to Professor BaHammam (2013), the impact of cold weather on sleep is directly proportional to the time spent in the cold. Although the human body has a mechanism for adapting to the weather, in general, we often experience unstable sleep during colder weather. It has been recorded that although the cold weather does not affect the deep sleep stages—two and four, it reduces the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. This REM stage is vital for the brain to relax, and this helps clear the mind as well as increase concentration during the day.
Additional reasons for disturbed sleep are an increase in the need to urinate, and the secretion of stress hormones such as adrenaline. Due to the rise in the secretion of these hormones, there is a rise in the tension and stress, and even the blood pressure, which is otherwise at its lowest level during sleep. Therefore, one can conclude that cold weather changes the physiology of sleep. This further explains the rise in infections during winters (BaHammam 2013).
Adjustments in the Learning Environment
Though seasonal changes have an impact on schools, the impact is not always a problem. If teachers resist the urge to slip into a lethargic state, they can energize their learners by using the seemingly calm months to intensify their focus on the curriculum. They are the meteorologist for their classrooms, as the principals are meteorologists for the entire school.
Approximately twelve weeks into the semester, I require my faculty to adjust their instruction. My teachers implement various differentiated instructional strategies such as curriculum compacting, flexible grouping, and tiered activities. These strategies help to break the monotony of teaching and learning. Though the teachers implement these strategies throughout the year, we monitor them administratively during the colder months to ensure that the teachers are meeting the needs of all learners. We provide in-house professional development to ensure the fidelity of the implementation process.
In doing so, we have seen great success, because we inspect what we expect and we get results. Teachers are students do not become complacent, but rather they remain energized throughout the year. The teachers capitalize on the mood-altering weather, because though the students are calmer, they are still sponges—they absorb this quality, core instruction, and they digest it, because it is delivered in manageable bits. This slight change has greatly impacted are summative assessment scores, because students are teachers form great habits during the long, cold months, and by January—it feels like spring. They returned renewed, as they were at the beginning of the year, and they are ready to take on the new semester, and all its challenges.
Furthermore, my administrative team is more nurturing during the winter months. We offer more incentives, such as free blue jean passes for teachers; we only require that they wear a school shirt or sweatshirt. Not only do they feel more relaxed, but insidiously, we bolster morale and school spirit! Our stakeholders see this, and they realize that we work as a cohesive unit. Some other incentives are our winter potlucks; teachers are naturally competitive, so they get in their kitchens and bake, steam, broil, and we break bread—together, as a family.
For the students, we host an annual fall festival, complete with cotton candy and pony rides. What a joy to see the students enjoying themselves; they do not even realize the added health benefit of the sun’s vitamin D! We also have Homecoming Week to foster their school spirit. These high-energy days keep us on our toes, but more importantly, they allow the students an opportunity to be expressive.
The Chief Meteorologist
The perceptive principal will be a consummate meteorologist—one who will recognize that the changes in the educational climate are the result of the shifts in weather. By understanding the changes that will inevitably take place in students and teachers, the principal can implement incentive programs, offer more recognition, and be more supportive during the dreary seasons. This will help to allay autumnal anxiety and winter woes; the insightful principal will boost morale and foster intrinsic motivation in teachers and students that will produce positive, extrinsic results.
BaHammam, A. (nd). The effects of cold weather on sleep. Retrieved on November 18, 2013, from
Grohol, J. (2008). Weather can change your mood. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1,
Keller, M.C., et al. (2005). A warm heart and a clear head: The Contingent Effects of Weather on Mood
and Cognition. Psychological Science, 16(9),724-731.