Starting the School Year off Right

As we prepare to warmly welcome new groups of students, it’s great to review much of the advice already in the blogo- and twitter-spheres. I’ll start with my take on new year activities. Then, I’ll share free stuff and free advice from my fellow bloggers and tweeps. Janet’s Beginning of year advice:

  1. You have three major goals the first week or two. First, focus on relationships – both the relationship you have with students and the relationships students should have with one another. Second, establish routines. Third, quickly find out what students already know and what they can do.
  2. Pre-assessing students does not equate with a long series of pre-tests and surveys. Pre-tests and surveys have their place, but choose them carefully. If you can, give students a task related to a learning objective. Circulate the room. Take notes on what you see. Never underestimate the power of anecdotal notes. What do students do when they’re stuck? Can they write legibly and fluently? How do they related to classmates? What else do you notice?
  3. Personalize the room in some way. Ideas are listed in my former beginning-of-year post. You can put up pictures of students and have them write speech bubbles telling about themselves. Having students tell or write their stories gives you good insight into how they learn. It also allows you to pre-assess student writing.
  4. Let not the tyranny of the urgent distract you from your three first-week goals: building relationships with students, establishing routines, and finding out what they already know and can do. Yes, I’m repeating myself.

Free stuff Connie from Herndon, VA has posted a first day writing activity on the Teachers Pay Teachers site. I’d attach it here, but I want to make sure she gets all the credit and that you can look at her other stuff. Laura Candler has published some back-to-school resources that you can download free. Her items include a school year calendar and a way to earn 7,000 Scholastic points to put toward your classroom library. Shelly Sanchez Terrell shares 10 Get-to-Know-You activities and Grahame Knox has given away 40 Icebreaker ideas. Teacher Hub also has a list of great activities. ASCD has some goodies on its Professional Development Pinterest board.

A couple favorites include a student back-to-school poster to personalize the classroom, and note-taking formats. The board also includes a planning guide to help you consider linguistic needs within content lessons. Larry Ferlazzo’s blog is known for its “Best of” lists. One of his posts lists The Best Resources for Planning the First Day of School. I especially like the thinking activity created by Peter Pappas. Some teacher bloggers have added a Linky Party of good advice. Others, like Jason Graham, model how teachers might step back and reflect on life’s big picture before the school year starts. An Edutopia article has videos and additional links to get you started right.

Teacher Hub has published First Day Activities that Students Love, as does the Teacher’s Lounge.

Building Relationships with Students Earlier in the post, I said you need to build relationships with the students. How is that done? Many of my fellow bloggers offer excellent advice. In Ways to get back in the Groove, Chartchums expand on the following advice:

  • Be consistent
  • Have reasonable expectations
  • Teach the routine, don’t just tell it
  • Practice what you preach
  • Put yourself out of a job, foster independence

Michael Linsin formulated a different list he called Seven Keys to the First Day of School:

  • A smile
  • A peaceful pace
  • A routine
  • A story
  • A plan
  • A lesson, and
  • A little fun

In The Huffington Post Glen Lineberry writes that “beginning the year strong includes relationships, relevance, and rigor.” One of the most important things you can do the first week is build relationships with the students. I really like Pernille Ripp’s article reminding teachers that “It’s not how your classroom looks, it’s about how it feels.” Kevin from Just Trying To Be Better than Yesterday reminds us to meet students at the door. Every day. Coach G adds that “how students feel in your classroom influences how they perform in your classroom.”

A Middle School teacher, Kris, offers her “will do” and “won’t do” list. Clerestory Learning lists questions you should consider in order to create a positive classroom climate. Class meetings can help you build relationships with students and help students build relationships with one another. This video shows a practical way to build relationships: The Class Meeting. I looked online for the curriculum and couldn’t find it. But, you can use many of the lesson ideas you see presented below.

Rules Yes, your classroom will need some rules. Share My Lesson includes a number of ideas – so you can pick the one that works for you. Shelley Sanchez Terrell shares a whole webinar on classroom management. What if you get a student who has a reputation for misbehavior? Michael Linsin has some great suggestions for starting off on the proverbial “right foot” with them. Laura Candler has some opening lines that set up a classroom for success – they are fun and worth a read.

Taking Care of Yourself You’re not going to be perfect. None of us ever are. Below is some advice about keeping sane and focusing on continued growth. From Laura Candler at Corkboard Connections:

  • Believe in yourself
  • Know you are not alone
  • Be friendly with students, but don’t try to befriend them
  • Remember that being fair doesn’t always mean treating every student exactly the same
  • Plan, Plan, Plan

If you have a few weeks for last-minute professional development, you might look to Mindshift. This post contains a list of ten articles that can add to your instructional toolbox. Those of you in your first year of teaching will appreciate this list of survival skills written by Pernille Ripp. In fact, you might want to tape the list to your desk.

Please let me know how it goes! What advice would you add?

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15 thoughts on “Starting the School Year off Right

  1. Janet: I wold of course add that the “filler” between all of the above should be loaded with tons of high interest read aloud picture books and short stories. This gets kids out of the classroom and into the stories, lets you see who can sit and listen, and, if you read a variety of genres, gives all the kids ideas of other stories they might like to read on their own. I try to include some funny ones early on as even reluctant readers like funny stories.

  2. It is so close to the beginning of the school year–and I have to go back a week early for robotics training and vertical planning with the new MS tech teacher. So your post is quite timely. I’m just about getting in the mood.

    • Ah, Jacqui, I understand. I just started back yesterday. The room is in order, I’ve plugged names into various apps and programs. Now the meetings begin…

      Hope your year starts off great!

  3. Janet,
    I like how you articulated the three goals that all teachers should have for the beginning of school. Thanks for including so many great resources. What you wrote on my blog is so true…setting the right tone at the beginning of the school is so important!!

  4. Holy plethora of great ideas! Wow Janet, I am going to pass this post on to fellow staffers! I am also going to bookmark it and come back to it during the next week and a half or so! Thank you!

    • Thanks so much! I really enjoy working with interns. They seem to gobble up and read everything they can :).

      I notice you hail from Washington State. As a native Oregonian, I miss the Pacific Northwest.

  5. Pingback: A New School Year in the Southern Hemisphere |

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