It’s here! Dreams of seating charts, bells, lesson plans, bulletins boards, and pre-planning agendas have started creeping their way into your brain again! The beginning of the school year is always an exciting time, but it can also go down as the most stressful time of your year. Yes, you receive a new set of curious and creative thinkers, and yes, you have the opportunity to iterate your curriculum and innovate your lesson plans to make them stronger for the coming year.
These things represent the fun and excitement of the start of school. Unfortunately for some of you, however, the start of the school year also means long hours of meetings, confusion, chaos, changing class rosters, financial woes from back to school supply shopping, and stress. For some, the start of the school year is more about survival than it is making an impact and setting the tone for your amazing year ahead with your students. Each beginning to a new school year represents a powerful and important time in the lives of your students and you. If you can’t connect with them during these first few weeks, excite them about the year ahead, and nurture their natural curiosity in learning, you may lose them for the entire year. So, how can we ensure we don’t lose the fun and excited energy that accompanies the first weeks of school?
Here are some tips to help you start the school year strongly!
1. BE PREPARED!
Nothing will cause meltdowns, anxiety, and stress more than being unprepared. Preparation occurs at many levels. Physically prepare by resting and getting back into your nighttime and morning routine at least a week prior to school starting. Mentally and emotionally prepare for unexpected changes, mishaps, and surprises. The first few days are unpredictable, and your attitude and mindset will not only affect your day but will also impact your students. Be prepared for change. Be prepared to use all of your class time. Be prepared to answer questions. We must model the behavior and mindsets we wish to see in our students! If you expect them to be prepared each day, then you must be prepared. They are watching!
2. DETERMINE AND IMPLEMENT CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT PLANS!
To ensure your classroom runs smoothly, and to set the tone for a positive and warm learning environment, you must have a solid classroom management structure in place BEFORE the school year begins. If you are a fan of seating charts, make them as soon as you get your rosters and determine how you will notify your students. Often, it’s quite chaotic if students come in and sit, and then after the bell rings, you have them all stand up and move again because you are telling them their assigned seats. I recommend you place the seating chart on a projector screen or post it around the room for students to view when they arrive. Along with seating, you should determine your class procedures and expectations for the school year. How will you communicate this with consistency and efficiency to students? Your first day of school is their first taste of what they can expect in your class. Be sure to model the behavior and expectations you wish to see. Students love being involved with rules and norms. Have them help you create class norms and expectations all students can be accountable for. A favorite classroom management strategy of mine is “hands up eyes up.” When my hand goes up in the air, they put their hands in the air and it signals to them I’m ready to speak, and they need to get quiet and look up. It usually takes about 5 seconds for a noisy classroom to get quiet. Try it! Another tip of mine involves restroom procedures. If you are at liberty to give some student autonomy with this at your school, and if their age is appropriate, I would encourage this. I teach middle school students, and this is an age where they are beginning to mature and yearning for autonomy. I prefer to not be interrupted in the middle of speaking or a classroom activity with a student asking to use the restroom or get water. Due to this, I have a sign out sheet by my door in which students may sign out one at a time if they must leave and use the restroom. They sign back in with the time returning when they get back. This helps me keep track each day of who is leaving my classroom, and I can also see if any patterns exist of students abusing the privilege. It has worked extremely well in my class, and I have had no issues!
3. CREATE A LEARNING ENVIRONMENT THAT NURTURES INNOVATORS, SPARKS INQUIRY, AND FOSTERS COLLABORATION!
Your classroom environment and layout is crucial to success! Consider arranging your desks in quads or collaborative groups instead of the traditional layout of rows. This naturally encourages collaboration and it is great for team building in those first few weeks of school. Next, you should consider your classroom design. What is on your walls? Your bulletin boards? Is it distracting to the students or does it foster inquiry? I like to put student work on my walls, and it always sparks inquiry in my students at the beginning of the year. I hear questions such as “What is that?” “Are we going to get to do that?” “When we will get to create that?” I love these questions, and it’s a great opportunity to discuss your curriculum for the year in an interactive way with your students! Finally, consider adding a design lab or maker-space in your classroom to nurture innovators. Students are creative and curious individuals, and when given the opportunity to create objects to show understanding, they will thrive and apply learning to new contexts! My design lab is full of pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, building blocks, markers, glue, scissors, yarn, paper, and more! We prototype regularly, as it not only is a great way for students to create original products, but it’s an excellent way to demonstrate visible thinking. Here is a picture of my BRAGG Design Lab!
4. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS!
As the school year begins, you have the unique and exciting opportunity to build new relationships with a new group of students. If you are going to create that warm and creative learning environment, it also means that your classroom will need to be a safe place for students. The first few days of school are excellent opportunities to get to know your students and to build relationships with them. I recommend having them write you an autobiography or complete a google form. I use this with my classes, and it really helps me understand my students. Click to see an example! They also really appreciate that I ask them what they like and don’t like in classrooms. Remember, students yearn for autonomy and they want you to know what they think! This is a great way to engage with them right off the bat! In addition, I always send home a parent google form to my parents as well. There are things that students will not necessarily tell you, but their parents would like for you to know, and this is a great way to get parents involved without them having to email you first. It also shows your dedication and care for their sweet children. Click to see an example! Also, there are great team building activities that set a positive tone for your classroom in the beginning of the year. I encourage you to break away from the traditional review of the syllabus on the first few days of school and engage in flipped learning for this! Save these days for activities and culture building.
5. HAVE FUN!
Don’t forget this one! It seems obvious, but it often gets lost in the hustle and bustle. Having fun adds smiles, energy, and positivity to the entire school. When you drive up into that parking lot, choose joy each and everyday. Remember, you can’t expect your students to have fun, if you don’t have fun! Write it on your desk. Stick it on your wall. Do it! We are lucky to be teachers, and we are called to make a difference. Let’s start with having fun!
I wish you all a great and successful school year!