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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!

Comments (92)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Scott's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Have you thought about the possibility of using the same lesson for all three of your groups. I am all for ability grouping and I really believe in the merits of it. What if you were to give the same lesson to each of the groups but allow the top two groups to leave the lesson as a whole group when they feel comfortable with the material. This accomplishes two things: the sdudents take part of the process into their own hands and gives them some ownership and it allows you to give as much attention as necessary to your low group.

Rhonda  Vanderford's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The beginning of a new year is such an exciting time. There are lots of things that need to be covered but I agree one important thing is to connect with your students. I teach 1st grade and although procedures and rules are an important topic the first few weeks of school,I take time to get to know my students . We talk about our likes and dislikes. I ask what each one would like to learn in the first grade. I do give each child time to talk to the class. We always practice our procedures. When I explain a procedure, I always demonstrate the exact manner in which that specific procedure is to be done everyday. Then the class as a whole practices each procedure and eventually it becomes natural. Don't get me wrong there are times that they need reminded! I also agree about the book written by Harry Wong. Mr.Wong has some great ideas and every year before school starts I pull out that book and refresh my memory about some things.I had the pleasure to attend a seminar featuring Mr.Wong and it was awesome!

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that all of the items on the list are excellent reminders of the things that need to be planned for. I am a visual learner and always make lists of things I need to do. This is a good list to keep and use as a reminder at the beginning of each year. Sometimes my brain has so much running through it, that it is easy to forget things that need to be planned for. Two main things that I plan for are the curriculum and classroom management.

I always feel that the first week of lesson planning is the hardest. I am always trying to find team building or ice breaker activities that are still meaningful to the curriculum. I think that the advice to jump right into the curriculum is the best. Classroom procedures are definitely important, but I think the students will get bored quicker if the curriculum is not started as soon as possible.

E. White's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like this list; it's very helpful. This is my second year teaching and I went into the school year with so many ideas and expectations. I already feel that I'm behind with covering parts of my course of study because of many absent children and having speakers and assemblies to attend. Sometimes I feel that I am never going to catch up and then when I do, a few days later I fall behind. How do I just jump into the curriculum when students are unsure of my ways and policies? I have already spent the first two weeks setting up procedures and reviewing them. Any other advice from others would help out.


Casey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I always remember professors and teachers telling me that my first year would be the most difficult year of teaching, but I found that hard to believe. It wasn't until I started my second year that I found out how true that statement really is! I came into a difficult situation, being hired three weeks into the school year after the original teacher quit. My students felt betrayed by their first teacher and ended up taking it out on me. I consider myself a pretty tough person, but I'll admit they really pushed me to my limits. Throughout the year I questioned whether I was cut out to be a teacher at all. After failing with trying to implement classroom rules and expectations I decided to focus most of my attention on building relationships. Although it took the better part of the school year, I finally gained the respect of my students and built some very strong relationships. After gaining their respect the students started doing all of their work and behaving in class. Throughout the year it never dawned on me that this was just the type of year that everyone had warned me about. Now I am in my second year and I am pleasantly surprised on what a great year it has been so far! The relationships I worked so hard to build have carried over to this year and now the new students are following the lead of the older students in my classes, so I have had no problems with classroom management. I think that taking the time to build relationships with your students is the first step in the road to having a successful school year.

Kara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In response to the KY teacher, it really does get easier as the years go by. You get more familiar with the curriculum, which makes it easier to make your plans. However, you will always have the same amount of paperwork and meetings, etc. It depends on how each year starts off for me. This year, our school was redistricted and we have a new crop of students/challenges. Even though this is my ninth year teaching, I am still very stressed because of the new challenges we have. I have worked with all grade levels before and the only thing I can tell you is to file, file, file!! I kept a file drawer for each grade I worked with and that seemed to help a lot. At the end of each day, I would file away the work we did that day in each particular drawer. It doesn't always work with everyone, but it worked for me. Good Luck!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a middle school teacher of 16 years, I have found that it has been best for me to first go over classroom rules and expectations with the students and then jump right in to the curriculum. Although the students would never admit it, I think they are curious what the style of class is going to be like. I have found that when I jump right in to the curriculum that it allows for time later in the year for review or other activities when the students need a break from the routine. When the students return to school they are usually ready to get back in a routine after the summer vacation. I have also found that with madatory state testing in the spring, we have to jump into the curriculum from the start in order to get most of the objectives taught before the spring test. The curriculum calendar is packed pretty solid.

Dawn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you about getting to know your studnets. I teach second grade and I start every year the same way. We do many differnet activites that help us get to know each other and also reinforce classroom procedures. I have also found Mr. Wongs book to be very helpful. It was given to me as a new teacher and I make sure that all the new teachers I know get a chance to read it.

Christy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think I agree with some of the things on this list. I do pique the students' interests by telling them what we are going to do this year. I feel a little unprepared this year due to the fact that I am now teaching totally inquiry based science lessons. I went to a training this summer and my principal was able to buy all of the components that we needed for our grade to teach to the curriculum the way it's supposed to be taught. My fear, though, is that I don't know what is coming next. I can't anticipate the accidents and the ways the experiments are going to come out because I have never done them before. In a way, I am learning with the students. I think that keeps me excited and energized though and the students see that and it pays off for me in the end. I also use it as a motivator for behavior in the classroom. After I taught procedures the first few weeks, we began completing the inquiry lessons. I was quick to remind the students if I saw one or two getting off task that activities were optional and they would be excluded from the group and have to read about the lesson instead. I actually removed three students one day who were not behaving properly. Since then I have had no problems at all. It pays to be consistent with your procedures. I learned that the hard way last year.

Natalie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

All of the items in the list above are great starting points to get the year started on the right track. I feel proud because I implemented all of those things with my class this year. My school really encourages the teachers to go over procedures and get to know the students from Day One. We are told that those should be our primary focuses the first couple of weeks. We are also encouraged to "pump up" the students and smile often, to get the students excited about the new school year.

This year they also wanted us to start teaching the curriculum and pre-test from Day One as well. I believe starting the normal routine and teaching from the first day is a good idea. It gets the students adjusted right off the bat and ready to learn.

I don't know how I feel about the pre-testing though. On one side, I feel that it is a good way to see what your students already know/don't know, but on the flip side, testing frustrates some students, especially a test that has information they are not familiar with. We did school-wide pre-testing the second and third day of school. The students were very overwhelmed and had a hard time staying quiet and still that long.

Perhaps we could continue to pre-test the students, but do it in a more informal way. Or "disguise" it, so the students view it as more of a fun learning experience.

Any suggestions or thoughts about pre-testing?

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