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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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KY teacher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like the ideas, but have a question for the teachers that are in a different situation. I work with Special Ed students and giving them the non-imperative things is difficult. What I need more organizational ideas for would be the paperwork aspect of the day.
I work with students in all grades at my school. I do not have a scheduledplan time like the regular ed teachers. I seem to clear piles each day to start new one the next.

Eric V's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Im a new teacher who also has a bit of an orginization problem. I teach at two HS's, 1 in the fall and another in the spring. I have to completely move from one place to another ang begin anew each semester. I'm looking for ideas on how to do this quick and effectively.

Robin Ely's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that establishing those relationships at the beginning of the year is a necessary and powerful way to begin the school year. Kids appreciate that teachers take an interest about who they are as individuals-not just as students. How many times have you had a student ask that you come to a concert or a game? This is who they are. These are the interests they have and they want you to be a part of it. Perhaps I spend to much time on this at the beginning of the year, but I feel like it is the key to a positive year ahead.

Melissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a second year teacher I have been excited and nervous for the beginning of the school year. I like the list for starting off the school year, however, there is one I item I disagree with. That is "when the year starts, just jump right into the curriculum." I disagree only because I work in a low socioeconomic school and for me; I have put procedures, routines, rules, and getting to know the students as my number one priority. With the student's low academic skills it wouldn't make sense to jump into lessons. As I found out last year, my students did not know how to do a whole class lesson on the overhead, and I had to start at square one teaching them how to participate in a whole class lesson. That surprised me! I definitely think students prefer to work on relationship building and the reviewing of previous class material. I try not to review too much as I don't want the students to think they can forget what they learned over the summer because the next teacher will spend time reviewing.

Christy L. Ross's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is actually simple, when I enter my grades then it is automatically updated by the system to show up on Parent Connect. The parents are given instructions when they first learn how to use the program and are told that all teachers enter grades at a different time and that teachers are encouraged to up date their grades once a week, but that there may be weeks when that is impossible. For the most part it works well, my own children are grads of college, but it would have been nice to have this options when they were in high school. It truly is not a burden

Christy L. Ross's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our parent connect is coorperation wide, I do not deal with the grade schools much, but from what I hear at staff meetings and inservices, it works equally well for them. I think that there are a great deal of courses/classes that do not have a lot of grades to submit, but parents seem to catch onto the ways of each individual teacher. I have emails from parents, but I refuse to answer them the minute they come in (even if I have time) because once the parent gets an immediate response they expect it each time, again they have learned with time how the system works. I will tell you for me, it is much easier to sit and answer emails at one time, verses spending a great deal of time on the phone after school or during my prep time. If an issue becomes involved I of course invite the parent to come in to speak. We have had this program for a couple of years now, the first year was hard to some teachers to except the program, but I think as a whole, most of us do not mind or even really like the system. Good luck with yours

Christy L. Ross's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You are correct, when everyone is involved we are a team, and teams can move mountains, and sometimes even motivate students!

Monique's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree, taking the time developing social skills, establishing routines, and expectations is, in my opinion, the only way to start the school year. This summer I was fortunate to attend a week long "Responsive Classroom" seminar with the Northeast Foundation for Children. There belief is to take the time to implement your social curriculum during the first six weeks of school. I spent my first few weeks of school, getting to know the students, playing name games, establishing my expectations, etc. During the 2nd and 3rd week of school, we worked on school rules. I have found that my classroom community is great. We all have established a lot of respect for one another and know the expectations of the classroom. Now, that we are diving into curriculum, I don't have to slow down, and go through my expectations, I can teach, and we are all enjoying it much more!

Tisha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I, too, strive to set up a "democratic" classroom. According to Kottler et al., "Parkay and Stanford (2001) found that research shows teachers who involve their students in decisions that relate to their classes experience fewer behavior problems (2005). I find this to be true in my classroom. As students have and feel a sense of responsibility, they are less likely to engage in unwanted behaviors in the classroom. I assign classroom jobs and also sit my students in cooperative learning groups. Students in each group are given responsibilities, such as paper collector, table monitor, timekeeper, and custodian. Overall classroom jobs include board washer, messenger, fire drill assistant, etc... Jobs are rotated, bi-weekly or monthly, and each student receives a job as long as their behavior remains intact. I establish this routine at the beginning of the school year. I want my students to feel involved in every aspect of their learning, including the environment of the classroom. I find that by assigning jobs, or responsibilities, to students they stay organized, and I stay organized too. Also, each student is eager to have a classroom job, so they maintain positive behavior the majority of the time!

Holly Bierly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Eric,

I can totally see where you are coming from. I have moved three times in the past four years of teaching. Moving can be an amazing experience if you embrace it. Easier said than done, right!?!? It is a good thing because 1. it gives you a better grasp on materials you have/don't have 2. it encourages you to sort/get rid of materials you don't need and 3. it can give you an idea of exactly where everything is because you JUST put it away.

I also struggle with staying organized. It is something I always, always have to work at, BUT I have gotten better.

First of all, I label all my boxes (obviously) and try to put common materials together (all my desk/office supplies in the same box). BUT I also give myself one or two "hodge podge" boxes...stuff that I need to find a place for later.

Secondly, enlist some outside help if possible. Sometimes a fresh eye is all you need. If you get "stuck" re-arranging things, ask an older student, co-worker or friend for ideas (where should I hang this? where should this go?, etc).

This year, I really tried to look at my room and find the BEST possible place for things. For example, last year, I had things in eye-level cabinets that I did not use very often. Eye level cabinet space should be used for things that are used a lot because they'll be easier to get to.

Another important lesson is to find A PLACE for everything. A lot of times (especially with paperwork) I don't know where to put something so I just leave it in a pile. Finally, this year, I got SO frustrated. Now I just look at things and say, "Okay, where is this going to go?" Haha... Really. It is changing my life for the better!

This is kind of a "girly" suggestion but you could also try getting home organization magazines or watching shows on The Learning Channel to get you motivated and add to your ideas. No one else has to know...haha.

Sorry, I'm sure I sound like a crazy person. I just can really relate to your issue. I've learned a lot but hope to keep getting better. GOOD LUCK!

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