Starting a new school year is always equal parts stressful and exciting. Learning a bunch of new names, hoping you’ve hit the great-student jackpot, figuring out the dynamics, learning all about them… the first few weeks are busy and exhausting, but we all know that if we start out right, we can make life much easier for ourselves in the long run!
Some of the most important things to do in the first week or two include:
Establishing classroom routines
Classroom routines are king when it comes to easing the pressure off classroom management and enabling your room to run smoothly. Kids should know where to find things, how to behave at different times of the lesson or week, where to put their work, where their things should be, what to do if there in an emergency, how to line up and enter the room, what books to get out at the start of the class, and so on and so on. All these little snippets of knowledge enable your students to feel comfortable and organised in your shared space. Almost everyone enjoys and benefits from a little routine and setting these up early saves huge headaches further down the track.
In my class, these are some of my routines, just for an insider peek:
Students line up and file in quietly. Once inside, they are expected to get out books and begin a class starter task (or Bell Ringer) that I will have on the screen ready for them. It will be something short and skills-based, such as a vocabulary or game, an editing or punctuation task, literary terms or writing challenge. This gets them in the door, ready to learn and focussed.
I have a seating plan for all classes up to Year 10 and they are expected to stay in this arrangement. As the year goes on and students can be trusted to work well, I tend to relax this rule, but start fresh with a new plan each term that places them in a new spot to freshen things up.
I have homework signs for each class laminated and stuck to a board, and write the homework and things coming up for each class beneath.
I have two trays per class – one for incoming assignments, and one for marked work and booklets that students have left behind. They know to check there if they are missing something.
At the end of the class, students pack up and then stand behind their desk. I check their areas and often ask students to push in a chair or pick up 3 pieces of paper/rubbish on their way out the door if they have done a messy task (the bin is at the door) which leaves the room tidy for the next class.
Establishing classroom expectations surrounding behaviour, relationships and work.
Rules are pretty boring, but they do make the work go round at school. Your students should never be guessing as to what you expect and how they are supposed to behave. A clear set of guidelines need to be established at the start of every year, however it get done, and should be consistently and fairly enforced.
My classroom rules include things like:
Respect the property and resources of others, the school and yourself.
No putdowns – check if what you’re saying is TKN (True, Kind, Necessary).
Work that is late results in lunchtime ‘hangouts’ with me (catchup sessions).
Do your best work (sub-standard work will be rewritten or repeated).
No phones except for schoolwork when asked.
No games or other screen activities unless you have completed all your work and been given a green light.
Be encouraging, helpful and kind.
Completing diagnostic tasks to establish where the kids are at.
Diagnostic tasks are super helpful in finding out where your students are at and what skills they still need to develop. Tasks could include writing activities, spelling or short answer tests on language and grammar topics, get-to-know-you tasks that double as diagnostics. The faster you get a handle on where kids are, the faster you can tailor your program to suit what they need and make things relevant and helpful. There is nothing that irks me more than a teacher telling me a story in the staffroom about how they found out late in Term 1 or even Term 2 (or have an irate parent after them when the child has failed multiple tasks) that a certain student is really struggling and need a tutor or extra help. I feel like saying, ‘Why didn’t you know this at the beginning of the year? You could have been much more helpful to them in terms of communicating with parents, getting extra help, and meeting their needs.’ Sigh. I know some students are good fakers and can slip through, but it is technically our job to know what our students need to learn.
Getting to know your students and help them get to know you.
Get to know you activities, games and tasks are super helpful in helping to establish rapport and connections. Learning what makes kids tick, what kinds of homes they come from, what experiences they have had, what they enjoy and dislike, what sports or after school commitments they have – all these things better place us to understand and enjoy our students. We also need to let them know us – a few life photos, a short background, a wee Powerpoint – it doesn’t matter what it is, but this allows kids to see you as a real person and get to know you better. I also like to send home an email to all parents of students in my classes, introducing myself and letting them know what topics will be studied in the coming weeks. I try to send these home once per term and I always get positive feedback from parents who have long since been ‘locked out’ of their kids’ education by High School and who appreciate knowing what is going on in class.
Some things I have done include:
Quick Quizzes – sheets full of silly and funny (and serious) questions such as pizza vs chocolate, favourite movie of all time, pet peeve, favourite subject at school, etc.
History, Horrors and Hopes – a quick look at four angles of how the student feels about your subject.
Decorative Banners with cut-out images of their favourite things from photos or magazines.
Handprints full of drawn items the student thinks represent them.
Name games and improv tasks to break down barriers and cliques.
Have some fun!
Playing games, giving kids silly challenges, having a laugh – these things foster a positive vibe and a fun environment which spreads joy into other areas and ensures that students are happy to come to your classroom. I can to be silly and goofy when the task allows, to make up for times when a serious approach is required. We tell jokes or try to solve riddles together. Having fun together makes memories – it is usually these things that are remembered in a few years (it’s usually not essay writing HA).
So this is how I approach a new year! I hope you’ve gleaned some snippet or idea that you can go away and use in your classroom.
Ps. I do have a great set of Back To School Tasks that you might enjoy, as well as a set of Diagnostic Tasks for Year 10 and Year 11. You could also check out my range of Class Starters (Bell Ringers), Vocabulary Games and Writing Challenges. Something to save you time and effort as you prepare for the start of school.
All the best for a great new year!!
xxAnna from Tea4Teacher.