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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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Connie Chaffin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Carol, I couldn't agree more. I believe that establishing a positive teacher/student relationship has more to do with a student's success than most teachers are willing to admit. To admit this puts too much of a burden on some teachers as they are not willing to invest the necessary time or effort. The teachers in my school who are most sought after by parents are the ones who are willing to build these relationships not only with the students but with the parents as well. Taking the time to build relationships with students' parents can certainly pay dividends in advancing a child's education.

Lynn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you both. The list is great. I feel relationship building is extremely important and begins when the students walk in the door for the first time. That initial contact can set the standard for the rest of the year. It is important for students to know that their teacher cares for them and yes, this takes effort. But, the rapport that is built leads to more progress in the classroom and can influence a student's motivation.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm not sure exactly what types of organization you are looking for but to start if you are looking for classroom management and set up - Harry Wong's book, The First Days of School(2005) is an excellent resource. It provides you with ideas and websites to visit to get ideas from other teaching professionals about numerous topics including organization.

Grizelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Every year I print out my lesson plans and use them for the next year, of coarse I modify them according to any notes I left on any particular lesson the previous year. I also try to find 2 responsible students the first week of school. When I say responsible, I mean up to date with assignments, disciplined and "on the ball" like we say in my school. These 2 students help me file, pass out papers, clean up at the end of the day and prepare my classroom in the morning before I open my doors. Most of the time it's routine, so they don't even have to ask what I need. It has helped me organize my priorities. If it is something important I need to complete, I now have the time since my helpers are taking care of the non-mperative things in the classroom. I've done this for the last 3 years and it has helped immensly.

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

What do you do to keep students motivated and focused throughout the school year. How do you keep their interest, when there are so many other things to distract them?

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

I agree completely, that teacher and student relationships have a great bearing on the students success. I do not think that you have to be loved or be the students "pal", but you must communicate with them and show that you have an interest in them as well as your subject matter. Building a bond with students gives them a sense of involement.
We have a Parent Connect on our schools web-site, this is where the parents can access their childs grades and stay in contact with each of their teachers, I believe that allowing the parents to have this connection/relationship and involvement with the teachers is a great tool to offer for community involvement

Melissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My school is starting a new online grading program that would allow the parents to enter the schools website and view their child's grades. I was wondering if you have ever had any backlash from this at your school, and negative outcome of the parents viewing the grades. I am an elementary teacher and I fear that if we go to this, we will have parents calling and emailing all of the time. This is because of how we grade and the fact that there are not an excessive amount of grades that would be listed for them to see. In elementary we do a lot of observation assessing instead of hard copy test assessment. Let me know how your Parent connect site works for you and the elementary level of your school district.

Melissa Herb's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I always have so many plans of what I am going to do over the summer to prepare for the next year. I sometimes get some of them done, but never accomplish all of them. I have to be organized though, or I just can't work well. I do believe you need to have that positive relationship with your students. Being in elementary, that is important, but so is rule following. We usually have to teach rules and procedures throughout those first couple days of school, as well as the curriculum for our grade. So, while we jump into the curriculum, we can jump in with full force until our children remember how to the procedures of school work.
To answer your question about additional preassessments, I think that we, at my school, have plenty in place to see where our kids are to start the year.

Walden Scholar's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the list, and think that all of them are great ideas in a vaccuum. However, being a teacher at a small South Carolina rural high-school, I have many other issues at hand when a year starts.

I always keep my plans year to year, and I am a huge believer in the classroom norms, expectations and procedures. Often, this is the only thing that can keep us sane at all.

Our guidance has been so screwey in the first two weeks of school for the eight years that I have been teaching. Jumping right into the lessons are impossible. Really, the only thing we really can do is relationship building and pre-assessment. It is a real headache, and I have been fighting it for years. I have become a master at preknowledge exersizes and peer motivation due to this situation.

Grizelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm not so sure if parents checking in would benefit me as a teacher. What if I were backed up with grades? I'm sure I would get calls from parents expecting to see updated grades, it would be too much extra work. At this point, I have learned not to stress, but to make sure I have input all grades by Friday and my students received friday folders with weekly progress reports stating their averages of the week along with any behvaior issues and work progress that needs to be taken home. I would actually like to know how this works and if the teachers at your school enjoy using this program in any way? What are the pros and cons? Looking forward to your reponse.

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