by Amanda Winkelsas, Ph.D., PLS 3rd Learning Curriculum and Instructional Specialist
Whether you’re a first-year rookie or a 30-year classroom veteran, those first few weeks back after summer break are a whirlwind of paperwork, schedules, and brand new student faces. The NYLearns team and I have put together ten helpful hints to get your school year off to a great start.
- Avoid assumptions. Starting the school year with a fresh attitude and perspective on both the upcoming year and the students with which you will work can take you a long way. No two school years are exactly the same, and the optimism with which you approach the year can be contagious.
- Begin with the positive! Early in the year it is important to focus on students’ strengths and to share positive news with families. Considering the strengths and various skills that students have, building confidence, and avoiding a deficit-perspective will enable you to build more productive relationships with students. Additionally, sharing good news and accomplishments with students and their families early in the year will establish foundational partnerships that become even more important throughout the school year.
- Be organized and prepared! It is essential to establish procedures for nearly every element of your classroom practice. What should students do if they need to go to the nurse? How do they turn in work? What should they do if they finish an assignment early? Through what means—and how often—will you communicate with parents? Establishing routines and posting reminders within the classroom or in another central location is important to avoiding chaos and confusion within the day.
- Set and communicate clear goals with and for your students. It is important to clearly articulate your goals for both yourself and your students. Consider the critical concepts and skills—both academic and social-emotional—to be mastered and developed throughout the year. Posting these in a central location will help to ensure that these don’t slip from view!
- Ask students and their families to set goals together. In addition to the goals you and your students might set together, invite students and their families to set their own goals for the school year. Based on their previous experiences, they may have specific hopes and priorities for the upcoming year. Facilitating this process and listening to students’ and families’ goals is important to learning about each of your students and better understanding how you can support their individual success.
- Establish high expectations. Students are perceptive and are aware of the level of expectation that is set for their efforts, achievements, and their overall behavior in the classroom. Establishing and supporting students in their efforts to meet your high expectations is a critical element of overall achievement and success in the classroom.
- Be consistent. Students learn quickly if you’re serious and follow through on what you say. Be consistent—both in your praise and in reinforcing the goals, procedures, and overall expectations that you have set.
- Connect and collaborate with your colleagues. It is important to maintain a network of colleagues that you both trust and respect. Find other teachers with a similarly optimistic, forward-thinking attitude and bounce ideas off of them throughout the year—or consider forming your own Professional Learning Community (PLC). Sharing successes and working together when challenges arise can provide the critical element of support that is necessary to a productive, positive school year.
- Push yourself professionally. It is important to lead by example! Just as you aim to inspire lifelong learning within your students, it is important to continue to learn and grow as a professional educator. Set a professional development plan for yourself early in the year and hold yourself accountable!
- Remember why you teach. Throughout the year as you become busy, and at times even overwhelmed, take time to remind yourself why you entered the profession. Consider the impact of your work and the life-changing potential that exists in the small moments that constitute each school day!