Ideally, the month of July elicits thoughts of bar-b-ques, pool parties, and relaxed hangouts; however, the vibe is a bit different for those of us in education. The end of summer brings the first week of school to our minds – and while others shop for flip flops and lemonade, the aisles of pencils, composition books, and three-ring binders may create a sense of panic for teachers: “How will I get ready for the new school year?!” To alleviate some of the stress associated with the first days of school, here are five helpful tips to make the transition from pool-time to school-time more successful for educators.

Tip #1: Create an Inviting & Inclusive Space

Sometimes your first classroom is a cart, which means you have to get really creative on your “must-haves.” And sometimes you get a double classroom which allows you endless possibilities for organization, seating, and decor. But the important thing in preparing your ELA classroom each year comes down to having a plan for who will sit where – more about this in tip 4, organizing your classroom library so that it is both visually appealing and easy for students to access, and putting up minimal but meaningful content on the walls to complement the learning. 

Because creating a space that will support and include all of your students is imperative, I recommend starting the year with a blank wall space and an activity that incorporates students’ identities into the classroom. One idea is to offer students book pages and allow them to create art on the page. This might look like black-out poetry, found poetry, or even a simple inspirational quote and colorful image. 

Another idea is to read aloud the book “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds and offer students paper, watercolors, acrylics, or markers and allow them to “make their mark” and see where it takes them. 

Whichever method you choose can then be hung around the room, and students will be excited to see themselves on the walls throughout the year. Additionally, it will give you some much-needed time to prep materials or get to know students while leaving some of the decor in their hands!

Tip #2: Cultivate Positive Relationships

Without question, the best part of teaching is getting to know the students you’ll impact each year, and the best way to start a positive relationship is with a kind email or phone call home. While a phone call to each of the students in your homeroom to introduce yourself is a wonderful tool in building community, sometimes there is no time for that, so a good alternative might be a thoughtful email that encourages follow-up questions or a postcard home to welcome each student. 

Download my free editable Back to School postcards here, and dedicate an hour or two to getting them ready. Trust me, it’s time well spent!

No matter what you make time to do before the year starts, greeting your students with a smile at the door each day and getting to know their names will be a winning beginning. Sometimes students report going through their school day with no meaningful adult interactions, or worse yet, having only negative ones. By incorporating this tip into your toolbox of tricks, you can impact students’ lives by letting them see that they are noticed and appreciated. Over time, your class climate should improve as you win more students over and create a safe space for everyone to be themselves without fear of bullying or harsh judgment!

Tip #3: Get To Know Your Scope & Sequence (& Colleagues!)

When preparing to teach, the best place to start is with a clear curriculum map that addresses each standard and shows the skill development throughout the year. Understanding the scope and sequence of your year is a pivotal part of ensuring student success. Knowing where you’re going will help you create and find the resources, including books and short stories, that students will need. A solid plan will also help you to confidently create a thoughtful syllabus and start the year with purpose.

Another important aspect of preparing to teach includes making the time to get to know your co-workers; all teachers need community and access to the combined experiences and wisdom of others. Meet and eat lunch together whenever possible. If you need something, do not be afraid to reach out to others and ask, as unrecognized problems seldom resolve themselves. You’ll be a stronger teacher with the support of your colleagues!

Tip #4: Procedures, Expectations, and Seating Charts

Every year of teaching will give you new wisdom, and this is especially true in setting up your procedures and expectations. The first week of school is especially important in setting up routines, so when creating your seating chart, consider numbering desks or chairs. This can help you group students, collect papers, pass out papers, assign computers, dismiss, line up, etc. Numbered seats are A SOLUTION! 

A fun idea to use to prepare kids and help them remember their numbers: Desk Olympics! Create different events, or have students create them, and set kids up to compete. A bell (my favorite is an electronic doorbell!) to get their attention, then a description of the task, which can lead to a reward (perhaps a class point?). For instance, when I ring the bell, the row that gets quietest the quickest wins a point. Another idea is to have all odd numbers put their heads down and remain silent while evens line up at the door. You can even set timers to see if they can get faster and beat their time. 

If Desk Olympics aren’t your jam, no worries. But definitely have a plan figured out for the following:

  • Where and how students will line up to enter and exit.
  • Where and how students will turn in finished work.
  • Where and how students will pick up missed work. 
  • Where and how you’ll organize and house student supplies. 
  • What your daily routine will look like: Daily agenda slide with a warm-up, like grammar, or independent reading for the first ten minutes of class each day. 
  • Which device or piece of technology will each student be assigned? This comes in handy if any suspicious activity happens through the Internet while in class! 

When students know what to expect each day, they’re more likely to feel supported and successful.

Tip #5: Keep Cool As a Cucumber

Honestly, while it is great to be prepared for anything, it’s also important to remember that you’re working with growing humans (not to mention hormonal teenagers) each day, so remaining calm and flexible is one of the best tools for being prepared. 

While preparing for the first week of school may seem daunting, a thoughtful checklist will keep you on track. Be as prepared as possible with the understanding that you’ll need to be flexible and ready to adapt. Remember that your students are as excited to meet you as you are to support them in their learning! You’ve got this.

Have an innovative idea for starting off strong with students? Please share in the comments below, or connect with me on IG or FB!

2 Comments

  1. With having over 200 students, 6 different classes, learning names is quite daunting. During the 1st week of classes, students create a tri-fold name tent with name in big bold letters on front for teachers to be able to read easily and then on the back they add different info about themselves to help us get to know each other. The name tents stick around for at least the 1st week of school if not longer.

    1. I love a good-name tent! I’ve noticed several of my kids use it as a bookmark for a while, too.

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