It’s go time, teachers. T-minus not enough days until the first day of school, and you’ve either started doing all the planning or are living in denial while trying to soak up the last few days of summer.
Buuuut, since you’re here, on my blog, reading about back to school, I’m going to guess that you’re doing all the planning.
Back to School Planning
Let’s talk about practical ways to prepare for this school year in terms of planning.
First, decide how you will plan and get yourself a system.
I like the Happy Planner, but I’ve made my own planning pages in the past and had them bound together at Staples for $5.00. Some people like to use a Google Calendar. Others like to use AirTable or Trello or even the Post-It Note App.
Choose one method that you can use consistently and get yourself ready to plan! Here are some suggestions to get you started.
➡️ Revisit last school year. Now that you’ve put some distance between yourself and the last day of school, you can look more objectively at what worked and what didn’t work. When were students the most engaged? What made you light up as a teacher? What were you and your students’ biggest stumbling blocks? I suggest writing all of these thoughts down and looking for trends or grouping your ideas together.
➡️ Now that you’ve completed your brain dump, I want you to consider solutions. We’re talking macro and micro solutions here. Maybe, on a macro level, you need to revamp an entire unit of study. Or, on a micro level, maybe you noticed that your students responded really well to a particular kind of activity or assessment. How can you do more of this or channel that energy? Make a list of changes you want to make. Then, categorize them into “must”, “maybe”, and “meh.” I don’t suggest changing everything. Pick a couple of changes that would make your year better and start there. At the same time, don’t forget to celebrate the things that did go well!
➡️ Plan ahead. I always aim to have my three days (we always start back on a Wednesday) on autopilot. And, because I’m a planner, I like to write down a preliminary timeline for the first unit to run by my PLC. Once you have this sketched out, gather any resources you already have together, make a list of tasks you need to complete, and if you’re blessed with a highly-functioning PLC, divide and conquer those tasks.
➡️ Review your syllabus. I suggest making this short, sweet, and student-friendly. I know a lot of teachers who spend a TON of time on this, and that’s great, but (and I’m saying this with love) if your students are like mine, they will not give it more than a cursory glance. What you can do is switch-up the format. Try one of these if you dare:
- One-pager syllabus. This is just what it sounds like. All of the “must know” information in a “digest” format. You can include QR codes for more information if you’d like.
Screencast syllabus. Record yourself highlighting key points on the syllabus. This is a great way to “flip” the syllabus talk and free up some class time. If you’re really feeling like a teacher ninja, try uploading to ActivelyLearn so that you can check for understanding and completion of this task.
Beyond the nitty gritty planning, there are the little things you need to do to get ready for the first day of school.
➡️ If there are resources you know you’ll need, copy, cut, laminate in advance and put them in your classroom.
➡️ Speaking of classrooms, take some time to put your room in order. Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not a room guru. I do not have flexible seating (gets too dirty for my liking, plus it’s against our district’s fire code). I do not have a “theme.” I do have a bunch of welcoming quote posters, table groups, and walls ready to be filled with student work. That’s enough for me. Now, if you prefer to go all-out on your room, you do you. I just find that my limited time is better spent elsewhere.
➡️ I haven’t thought about my first day of school outfit said *almost* no teacher ever. Set the tone on the first day with a power outfit. I’m talking about an outfit that is professional. I always treat myself to something new to wear on the first day of school. Not necessarily an outfit, but an item (last year it was the sandals I had been eyeing at The Walking Company). This year, it may be a new set of work-at-home pajamas to wear for distance learning, who knows?!
First Day of School Routines
When the first day of school finally arrives, you’ll be dressed and ready to go in a room that has been readied for students and armed with a plan.
But what happens on that first day?
Well, it will fly by faster than you might expect.
Here are some things I always do on my first day of school:
- I do NOT use a seating chart. This is because I want to see who students naturally choose to sit by. In a particularly talkative class, I’ll split these students up when I create their first seating chart.
- I give each student a note card when they enter and ask them to write down first and last names and any nicknames and draw me a picture. These notecards are gathered up and go into a library card pocket on the wall. I use them almost every day to group students and randomly call on students.
- I introduce myself and then ask each student to tell me about him or herself in “1,000 words or fewer.”
➡️ Beyond this, my goal is to get students thinking and curious about the class. I want to prompt thought or discussion with an activity.
Here are some you might try:
- Read something and have students create a graffiti wall response.
- Listen to an inspiring TED talk or podcast. Then talk about student motivation and set goals for the year.
- Set stacks of books at each table group, row, etc. Host a book speed dating event and have students begin a “reading next” list.
- Icebreaker stations
Take Time For YOU
Last, but not least, if you want to know the biggest way to prepare for the school year, it’s to do whatever you can to take care of yourself.
And make sure that you have routines and systems in place so that you can continue to take care of yourself once the school year begins.
Why is it that we take so much time to plan and prepare to take care of our students without taking time to plan for our transition back to school?
The first day of school marks a tired transition that often means (um, at least for me if I don’t actively push against it) I’m skipping the exercise, running out the door without lunch (and having to eat in the cafeteria…again), and wondering what in the world to make for dinner at the end of the day.
Know yourself, and don’t promise that it will be better this year without making changes to ensure that it is better. What do you need to change so that you can be the best version of you for your family and for your students?
- Do you need to take a day to meal prep? Do it!
- Do you need to wake up 50 minutes earlier to exercise before your day begins? If that’s the only time you’ll commit to it, make it happen. Google Mel Robbins’ 5 second rule and show up for yourself.
- Do you need to delegate some household chores? Ask and assign.
Because if you don’t, those October doldrums will be even tougher. Take care of yourself!
Thanks for reading this post! You’ve got this! Despite what you hear from Harry Wong, your school year is not doomed if you don’t have the perfect first day, complete with making students line up outside of the classroom until they can enter appropriately. You don’t need to write out a speech. You do need to do all you can before that first day of school so that your first few days can almost run themselves. This will allow you to focus on your students. It will also allow you to leave at your contractual time, come home, spend time with your family and get some rest.
120+ human beings are in your room for a reason, and you get to teach and mentor them. What an awesome privilege and responsibility we are given as teachers! Not only do we get to start each year with a blank slate and more lives to impact, but also we get to continue learning and growing. Let’s do our best to make this year of remote/hybrid/whatever and whenever we can teach learning count! Are you with me?
View the Video Version of This Post
Hey, if you loved this post, I want to be sure you’ve had the chance to grab a FREE copy of my guide to streamlined grading. I know how hard it is to do all the things as an English teacher, so I’m over the moon to be able to share with you some of my best strategies for reducing the grading overwhelm.
Click on the link above or the image below to get started!