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Start the Year Off Right: Ideas for Creating a Happy Classroom

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My two favorite times of the academic year are the beginning and the ending, and one of the best things about working in education is that we get all summer to recharge. As I gear up to start a new school year, I've been thinking quite a bit about beginnings.

Dennis Potthoff, a colleague of mine, created the following list for teachers to refer to when beginning the new school year:

  • Before the year starts, get ideas for your curriculum by reviewing lessons from past terms.
  • Establish classroom norms, expectations, and procedures.
  • When the year starts, just jump right into the curriculum.
  • Motivate and excite students -- "sell" the class, the curriculum, and the teacher.
  • Work on relationship building (student-to-teacher and/or student-to-student).
  • Preassess your students to gauge their current knowledge, skills, or dispositions.

In the past, I've followed the second, third, and fourth ideas by discussing with the class my goals for the year, sharing my enthusiasm with the students to pique their interest, and jumping into the lessons and activities for the term.

As I share Potthoff's list with you now, I wonder how these ideas sound from the students' viewpoint. For example, would students prefer to work more on relationship building and the reviewing of previous class material? Would additional preassessments help me understand more about where my students stand in the learning process?

What do you think of these ideas? Which ideas would you use, and why? Do you have other ideas to add to this list? I'd like to hear from you!

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Paula's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like the idea of your list. I think it is a great to reflect during the summer on your prior years lessons. Each summer my fellow first grade teachers and I meet to reevaluate our lessons and update where we feel its appropriate. However, I feel it is a little more difficult to jump right into the curriculum in the lower grades. I believe a signifigant amount of time needs to be devoted to classroom management and developing routines. It may seem like a loss of teaching time but believe me it is time well spent. The younger students need to establish routines and learn what is expected of them. This will allow for a much smoother transition into teaching the curriculum. I also try to make connections quickly with my students and devote the first two weeks to an All About Me thematic unit. A short questionare is sent home to the parents to fill out describing their childs interests, nicknames, likes, dislikes and any other information they would like to share about themselves or their child. This is very helpful in getting to know your students.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I work in a middle school and i think your list is very helpful and I plan to use it myself throughout the year. I agree with you that the summer is a time to recharge because working with kids is very stressful and we do need time to recharge and re energize.

Gail's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading and agree with your list. I believe that one of the most important aspects of your list is relationship building. Through building relationships with students, we earn their trust and respect. If we have the trust and respect of the student, they become much more teachable.

Cliff Toole's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a good list. I've yet to enter the classroom and will use this list when I do. From a student point of view, I always liked to ease into a new school year. With that in mind, maybe day one should have a fun activity and pre-test to see what your working with.

Arianni's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great list! I'm studying to be a teacher still but the day I have my classroom l would definitely go back and look at this list. This list gives you balance in all aspects. My three favorite ones are the second, fourth and fifth one. It is very important for the kids to understand the rules of the classroom as soon as they walk in. At the same time as the teacher you want the students to fell comfortable. Having a good relationship with your students is very important and it makes it easier to teach because they are more open minded. Motivating and exciting the kids before a lesson can have a big impact on how they work and how involve they'll be.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Nice list. I think it works well for both veteran and lesser experienced teachers. When you mentioned working on relationships, what do you think about adding the teacher to parent aspect of it as well?

Stacey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like your lists of ways to start the year off right. I especially agree with number two. After teaching kindergarten for seventeen years, I have discovered that it is critical to establish my procedures and routines before even jumping into my curriculum. Because I focus so intensely in the beginning on procedures, I feel that it eliminates many behavior problems that may occur, for the children and parents know what I expect from them. Also,number five is very important in building those relationships. Five and six year olds are very egocentric, so we spend a lot of time getting to know one another and becoming a family. They know from the beginning that we are going to live, act and treat one another as a family in the classroom. After all, we are with each other, in some cases, more than we are with our real families.

Mary's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for sharing the list your colleague created to reference to when beginning a new year. Although this is my third year teaching, I have started a new assignment this year. My first two years I taught the Severly Multiply Handicapped class. This year I am teaching first and second grade resource center. It is quite a change and both are very challenging and rewarding. I find it is a very helpful strategy to utilize time over the summer to search for various types of lessons, strategies, and levels of teaching particular concepts that are to be taught that year. However, until I start the year and get to know my students and their abilities, I cannot set specific lessons.
I always begin my year by having the students help me create the list of classroom rules. I find that many times if the students help to create the list they are more motivated to follow the rules. The key word is motivation as is mentioned in the fourth idea. I try to find out what my students are interested in and integrate their interest in the sentences in my lessons. This is also a way to build a relationship with my students.
I tend to start the year reviewing materials from the previous year to see what the students have retained. I am not sure if this is also done in the general education classes.
This is my first day blogging. I look forward to this new way (for me) of communicating with other educators from various places in the country.

Cindy Galloway's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the first of the year and the end being favorites. Not many professionals get a fresh start every year and get the chance to reflect at the end of the year in anticipation of the new year. I am a kindergarten teacher in New Mexico. Each year before school starts I get together with the other kindergarten teachers in my building. We have a pot luck lunch and bring our calanders to plot out the year. This gives us a chance to look over the curriculum and discuss what worked last year and what we want to change. I agree with you Stacey on the importance of step two. If kindergarten students do not have a routine established and know what is expected of them from the beginning then it is very difficult to move forward with any curriculum.
One more area that my colleagues and I really work hard on at the beginning of the year is establishing relationships not only between students and teacher but with parents. We have an orientation the first day of school. We send letters out to parents inviting them to come to school with their child for the morning. The students are happy because mom and dad are with them this way the first day of school is not so frightening. Parents are happy because they get to come in meet the teacher, have coffee, ask questions and take all the pictures they want for family photo albums. After touring the classroom together, putting up school supplies and doing a simple name puzzle together as a family we gather for a story. After the story the children get a tour of the school and a snack. I spent this time while the children are out with the classroom assistant, to talk with the parents and build that relationship. I tell parents that they are their childs first teacher and that I want to be a partner in their childs education. This simple orientation seems to really help set the tone for the school year. Thanks for that great list.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that we must start out the year by letting the students know our expectations and what the classroom procedures will be. I teach Pre-K so like Kindergarten they are also very interested in themselves. I try to have a time each morning when the students can tell something that they feel is important. It can be about themselves, their family, pets,etc. This gives everyone a chance to take turns listening and learning about eachother and what is important to others in our class. I also let the children come up with ways that we can make our classroom better. We come up with these "rules" together and it gives them a sense that they have a part in deciding what is expected to make our class home a better place.

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