By Tisha Shipley
Back to school—it’s here! There are many emotions and thoughts about returning back to school. Excitement, joy, pressure, sadness, and anxiety might be a few. What kinds of emotions you are feeling depends on who you are. Are you a first-year teacher? Are you a veteran teacher and maybe it is your last year? Are you starting in a new district, or maybe just moving schools within your district? Are you a new student, a graduating senior, or maybe just moving schools within your school district?
As you can imagine, heading back to school can mean so many things. Let’s make this school year the best one yet for everyone involved. If you are a teacher, this is such an exciting time. Here are a few tips and tricks to help make the beginning of school a success. Good luck, and have fun!
Be the Best Teacher You Can Be: This can mean so many things. To me, being a great teacher means I
- Am prepared.
- Am excited and have a positive attitude.
- Genuinely care about my students and their families.
- Am committed to being at school every day. It is my mission to reach my students individually and allow them to make mistakes and learn.
- Will cheer on each student to be successful and ensure that each has the best experience possible.
- Understand that I must build a home-school relationship and that together we will set goals for students.
Here are two articles I’ve written that explore different ways to engage students and ensure that they are excited about learning:
Organize Your Classroom: An organized classroom is a bright, colorful, engaging, warm, and welcoming place that you want to come each day. During my first year as a teacher, I decided that my classroom would be my second home—because honestly, as we all know, it really is! I wanted my students to be excited to be there, and I wanted to love the place I spent my days, too. Organization can mean the way your classroom is set up, the weekly planning that you strive for, your daily schedule and routine, and the procedures you establish to run your classroom. I always tell people my classroom was organized chaos because I taught 4- and 5-year-olds, but my students knew what they were doing and were engaged in their learning. For more organization ideas, read “How to Prepare for the Fantastic First Week: What Will You Do? (WWYD),” an article I wrote that prepares even the veteran teacher for a successful first week of school.
Teach Procedures: Procedures are how to do something. I believe that sometimes procedures and routines are intertwined incorrectly. They do go hand in hand and should be present at the same time, but procedures must be taught repeatedly. If students don’t complete them correctly, you must teach them again. Some procedures that need to be taught in the very beginning of the school year are things like how to enter the classroom, what to do after entering the classroom, how roll is taken, how to line up at the door, how to wait to use the restroom, how to sit on the carpet at group time, how to engage in center activities, how to clean up an area, how to get ready for lunch, and how to get ready to go home. These are just a few procedures that must be taught from the first day of school and gone over until they are commonplace in the classroom. If students miss or incorrectly complete them, go back and teach them again. Oftentimes procedures have to be retaught after winter break or even long weekends.
Teach Routines: Routines are things that happen each day—things in which the students know what to expect next and there are no surprises. Daily routines are vital for young children. They must know and understand what to expect—this allows them to feel safe, nurtured, and confident about themselves and their learning. A routine is how your classroom runs—that is, a daily schedule that should be followed closely. For example, maybe you start with day with group time, come together for carpet time, break out into center time, take a restroom break, and then go to lunch and recess.
Teach Transitions: Transitioning means going from one activity or lesson to another. If you teach your procedures and routines, transitions happen very smoothly. You can use almost anything for transitions: bells, musical instruments, the same song each time, clapping, and even a certain word. My students knew when they were to begin cleaning up their centers because I played the same song each day. They also knew that they were going to transition from carpet time to their assigned center after the goodbye song played and that it was time to get ready to go home when they heard the bell ring.
Build a Classroom Community: A classroom community is built from the first day of school and consists of members that respect and cheer each other on. They understand people are different and make mistakes. They fulfill various expectations, jobs, duties, and responsibilities. They include each other, help to make the classroom a positive learning environment, and follow rules and procedures as they engage in their learning. Team-building activities and ice breakers help to build a classroom community by encouraging students to get to know each other. Show and tell, student of the week, and an “All About Me Bag” also help students learn about different cultures and family lives. Building a classroom community is vital for everyone—including the teacher.
Over Plan: Ensure that you are prepared for all situations and types of students as you begin back-to-school activities. Remember that some students have never been away from their families. You are the very first person they are in contact with outside their immediate family. Plan fun, engaging, and developmentally appropriate team-building activities and lessons that you can present and work on as a group.
Build Relationships: Home-school relationships are vital. I started building relationships with my families from the very first meeting, which was back-to-school night before school even began. When you build relationships with families, you feel better about calling home, sending home notes, and giving families ideas or advice. Families also begin to trust you and your ideas and realize that you really do have their child’s best interest in mind. Here are two Inservice articles about how I involve families in my classroom:
- “Three Ways to Connect Schools and Families Through Social Media”
- “Parent Parties: Teaching and Learning Fun!”
As you are preparing to head back to school, know that you are setting the tone for the classroom and for the entire year. Make this the best year you’ve had yet! Try something new from the tips and tricks I’ve shared here, research new ideas, partner and collaborate with your colleagues, and get to know yourself better (self-reflect). Each year is different—students, families, learning, themes, etc.—and that is good. If you are continually changing and learning, you are keeping up with this wonderful profession!
Tisha Shipley received a doctorate of education in curriculum and instruction from Northcentral University and a master’s degree in elementary education/administration and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Northwestern Oklahoma State University. She has taught multiple grade levels at Moore Public Schools, including preK and gifted 3rd through 6th grade, and served as a cheer sponsor and a principal. Most recently, Shipley served as director of preschool programs at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. She is now an online instructor who presents at early childhood conferences and helps teachers in their classrooms. Connect with Shipley on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and her website.