September 20, 2017 by

What to Do When the School Year Is Off to a Rocky Start

There are countless articles out there about planning for the coming school year and how to make it successful; we’ve posted many of them on our blog! But what nobody seems to mention is, what do you do when the year has started out….and it, frankly, sucks? There’s no plan, low energy, and you’re losing precious days of instruction to inefficiencies and nonsense in the building. As teachers and school administrators, we’ve put our thoughts down on reclaiming your classroom (and your mental health):

Seek others out intentionally.

Find an ally, a No-Nonsense Nurturer, in the building who can help shift your mindset. Be intentional with why you are seeking this person out. Be transparent with this person about your rough start to the year. Tell them why you’ve approached them, using language like “I’ve noticed that you do ____ really well” or “I appreciate how you think and speak. I’d like to learn to have an attitude like yours towards the profession.” Most teachers often seek out strategies or best practices and it’s just as important to intentionally seek out how to have a good attitude and the proper mindset.

Script conversations with key leaders.

In his famous study “Gangstas, Wankstas and Ridas”, Jeff Duncan-Andrade identifies preparation as a pillar of highly effective educators. This commitment to preparation extends beyond preparing classroom materials but also preparing yourself for challenges and forward movement. When the school year isn’t off to a great start, prepare to have a productive, focused conversation with key leaders in the building. Get your language together and give yourself a deadline of who you’re going to meet with and when. Don’t fall victim to email, otherwise you might be perceived as a complainer. Don’t meet off the cuff, or you could completely lose your focus. This helps you demonstrate confidence, not panic and shows that you’re not making it somebody else’s problem. Ultimately, preparation at this level will help develop your individual efficacy.

Use your planning period to create change, not make copies.

If you’re in a school where your leader struggles with communication or systems aren’t set up, you can’t always assume the person across the hall will be able to support you. If you use your planning period wisely, walk each of the hallways in your school and visit others’ classrooms. Leverage the opportunity to find a teacher who is thriving so you know who to attach yourself to rather than engaging in “water cooler gossip” at the copy machine. Be intentional. Seek out the best teachers in the building and learn from them.

Insert yourself into current structures or opportunities.

Once you recognize the building isn’t off to a successful, productive year, seek out opportunities to be a part of a structure, such as your school’s culture team, staff committees, etc. This models that you’re willing to be someone that is solution-oriented. This is showing your ability to take action. Talk to your students about the initiatives you’re getting involved in, to not only model engagement but to show them that you’re investing your time in making the school year successful. Walk the talk.

Take incremental steps.

All educators know that transformation doesn’t happen in a day. Take a look at what you can do every week or two weeks until you can turn the situation around, either in your classroom or your building. For example, rather than wait for systems to be communicated, decide you’re going to sit by the secretary and learn the systems you need to know: how to submit sick time, how to submit attendance properly and how to submit for professional development, or what to do in a fire drill. This small step can give you a sense of confidence of how to navigate through structures in a school, especially for those new to the profession or the building. Another example is by the end of week two, you’re going to have scripted your conversation with one of your school leaders (department chair, head principal, etc.) about your current reality and perception. Make a shifting to action from problem-glorification.

No-Nonsense Nurturers never lose hope or confidence in front of students or colleagues just because the year is getting off to a rocky start. The minute that you lose confidence because of external factors, your students will perceive you as part of the dysfunction in the school. This is going to make you have self-doubt over time. Rather than increasing your ability to be a competent and capable teacher, you create a scenario where you crash and burn, experience stress, lose focus, and get stuck in the domino effect. Your class will go so far away from you, it will be hard to get it back. Consider if what you’re doing fosters a growth mindset and take steps each day to get your school year back.


William Sprankles has served as a teacher and leader at a New Concept/Turnaround school in Cincinnati, the first of any public school in Ohio to earn consecutive “Excellent” ratings with over 90 percent of students from minority and poverty-based households. He also served as Executive Director of Teaching and Learning at a 6–12 Campus with over 3,000 students, notably Ohio’s most diverse public school. He proudly led detracking and desegregation efforts of students in the mainstream curriculum, resulting in a 98 percent graduation rate for all students and multiple “Excellent” ratings in the state of Ohio. William is an associate with CT3 working with schools across the country.