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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Start the Year Off Right: Ideas for Creating a Happy Classroom

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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Becki's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading this list because it made me think of what I was doing and if it fit into these key areas. I found that I am decently good at establishing routines and procedures and motivating the kids. However, I will take away the idea of "jumping into the curriculum." You're going to jump in sooner or later, so you might as well jump in at the beginning and your rules and routines will be even easier for the students to follow. I also do some beginning of the year management poems or songs in transition. When my students are lining up and even before they are quiet, I start a poem that they automatically join in and when it's over they are quiet as could be. It goes like this, "My hands are at my sides, I'm standing straight and tall, I'm being very quiet, Now I'm ready for the hall." I also play the kid version of "Who Let the Dogs Out" as a clean-up song so they can clean and dance. Everything needs to be clean by the time the song is over. These are fun beginning of the year activities that I feel fit into many of the above ideas and you can carry these on throughout the year.

becki's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Kim,

I think doing centers is the perfect idea for your special needs kids. Because they are young and behind, they need developmentally appropriate activities that are still academically based. I would just suggest making the centers enjoyable. Use little "dot" stickers with letters on them and brown construction paper for a tree trunk and green for leaves, and have them re-create the story "Chicka chicka boom boom," as a center idea. Make little fishing poles with sticks, ribbon, and magnets to fish "sight words" for example out of a container and then have them copy that sight word onto paper. The sight words only need a hole punched into them and a paper clip through that hole. Hope you can use these center ideas or adapt them somehow. I just love centers and think they work really well, even without assistance from me.

Lisa M.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading this blog. I think "starting off on the right foot" at the beginning of the year is very crucial for teachers. It's funny, we all took education classes and student taught, however no one told us, or at least me, how to deal with the day to day occurrences of teaching. I think this blog is very helpful, especially for new teachers.

I've learned, through the years, that you have to start each year organized, on task, and ready to go with your curriculum. This is my fifth year teaching high school and I always give assignments on the first day of school. By doing this, I think it gives the students a sense of what I expect from them.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that undergrad programs do not quite prepare you for the first day of school. Being organized, and on task is very important, but in my area of special education it takes a little time getting into the curriculum. There are so many other aspects of my classroom that have to be addressed like rules, expectations, how to work between the regular ed classroom and my own. We do try to start as soon as possible on the curriculum, but it takes a couple of days.

Monique's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The beginning of the year is always so challenging. I think you have the right idea to take the time to build up your classroom community. It may set you back a day, but you will eventually make it up. Once you establish your rules, expectations, etc., then it will be easier to teach the students curriculum. You can do some community building games that include academic content. For example play a matching game with your students, so they can get a chance to "find" the match partner, then they can meet eachother and tell something about themselves. There are many books out there that can also help! Remeber to fun! If you are having fun, so are your students. I would also recommend for you to check out the book "The First Six Weeks of School" from the NEFC Responsive Classroom program. I think it has many useful strategies and tools to begin the year off right! Good Luck!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wendy,
It is important to do your "get to know you" activities at the beginning of the year. This will give you great insight on the learning styles of your students. You need to be connected with your students. Creating a safe environment where your students can be risk takers and grow, need to be your top priority. When your students feel they are connected to you, their new teacher, I believe they will be comfortable to take on the challenges in your classroom. Take the time now and you and your students will reap the benefits. Have a great year. Teaching is a very rewarding profession.

KY teacher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Becki-

Your ideas are wonderful. I am in the same situation as Kim and the center ideas you posted can work well with a particular student I have in mind!
Thanks for sharing!

Judith Hall's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading the blogs here but I have some concerns that apply to the list of ideas to start the year off right. In my particular school we often don't know what we are teaching as far as grade levels until a few days before school starts. This makes preparing for the year very difficult. Further, jumping right into the curriculum can be difficult because it is not uncommon for our school to change classes and several students during the first week and early second week of school. It's difficult to start the year and then have to RE-start the year. In addition to this, with CELDT testing done in October and STAR testing results slow to be made available to teachers we have to rely on assessments done in the first few weeks of school and that takes at least two weeks to get results back on. All this adds up to time spent preparing for the year when the year has already begun and therefore waisted instructional time.

Does anyone have any suggestions...other than leaving that school?

Yasmin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is pretty good advice, especially for me because I'm still studying to be a teacher. I agree it could be tough to use all the items on the list, yet I would like to try and use the whole list to see how my school year would turn out. I believe that students would like to build relationships and review material. It would make them more comfortable to their classroom surroundings.

Mary Beth's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I got some great ideas from this list and responses. I made classroom rules on the first day of Geometry with 10th graders and I made a poster by the next day. I needed to review these processes and procedures for at least two weeks instead of assuming they will remember and follow them. With constant reminder at the beginning of each class, they catch on and the prcess becomes a part of their daily routine.

I make connections with my students and their families by having students fill out a survey along with a survey for their parents/guardians about how the students learns, what motivates them, and so much more!

The pre-assessment is a great idea to start the year (and each chapter) if time allows. I want to connect the last year of Algebra with Geometry to motivate. Highlighting key concepts and formulas would also help them recognize what is important so it looks familiar when it comes along in the chapter/year.

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