Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Back to School Ideas for Primary Teachers

When you hear the phrase "back to school" do you get butterflies in your stomach?  I do, almost every time!  I think for me it's a combination of excitement, nerves, and a desire to make this back to school season the "best" yet.  For me, the "best first week at school" can be accomplished when I follow these three tips:  1) Be Organized, 2) Be  Prepared, and 3) Be Calm.

Here are some of the ways that you can apply these 3 tips to your back to school season:

Be Organized

A) Have a system to collect student/parent information

Some things that you will want to have organized ahead of time: Some schools do all of the collecting of student/parent contact information for you and they do a great job of passing along that information to their teachers.  However, even if they do, it may be in a format that doesn't work for you.

It's imperative that you have organized yourself and your classroom ahead of time so that when your students and their parents enter your classroom, there is order and predictability.  The beginning of the year can be a very exciting and stressful time for families, particularly if they don't know you or the school yet.  Having an organized classroom is one of many ways to demonstrate to parents and students that you have things under control!  Note: organized does not imply fancy or cute.  Do not spend an exorbitant amount of time making your classroom "cute" at the expense of setting up systems that will work. 

 If you want to collect emergency contact info and other pertinent information that you can keep in a binder in your classroom, have a document ready to go at the beginning of the year.  You can create your own, or you can download this one for free.

B) Have a plan for where to keep school supplies (and how to collect them if necessary)

There are many ways that schools deal with school supplies.  Some schools hand out a supply list ahead of time, some schools hand out a supply list on the first day, and some schools collect money for the teacher to use to buy in bulk.  I'm sure there are more variations...if so, please let me know in the comments!

First, you need to decide if your students will be using individual or shared supplies.  If you are doing shared supplies, have empty bins ready to put the supplies in by type.  If you are doing individual supplies, you need to decide if you will be labeling the supplies or if you want the parents to take care of that.  Next, you will need to decide how those supplies will be stored throughout the year.  Many teachers have shared pencils so that the students always have access to sharp pencils.  Others hand out pencils at the beginning of the week and the students are responsible to take care of them until Friday when they hand in a set of pencils for sharpening.  Others have students responsible for sharpening on a constant basis.  Decide on a plan, set up for that, and then be willing to change your routine if it's not working for you!

C) Design your classroom layout to match your function. Know how students will enter the class, move to various activities, pick up work, and hand it in.

Your classroom layout will have a big impact on the way your students interact with each other and how they are able to follow directions throughout the day.  It is imperative that you figure out the flow of students throughout the school day.  Where will they enter your classroom?  Do you need to collect them or will they arrive at your door?  What will they need to do first?  Where do they put their belongings, and once they have, what do they need to do next? You will want to know exactly what the children need to do and where they will need to go.

In order to instill confidence and respect, you need to have a plan!  If you have your class list ahead of time, label the student's lockers or cubbies as well as their seating spot.  The first day is not the time for "flexible seating".  Having a spot with your name at it can feel very comforting for students, so prepare for them in that way if at all possible. If you do plan to use flexible seating, you can just have a wearable name tag set out at seat spot so that the student can sit down there, but then their spot isn't actually labeled.  For some students, simply having to choose a spot can be overwhelming, especially in the younger grades.  Beyond the first few moments, also have a plan for where students will move to for instruction (carpet area, remain at tables/desks) and how you will hand out papers and where they will hand those papers in.  With all of the craziness of the first day(s) of school, you will really benefit from having thought all of these things through.

D) Have a basic plan of how your days will be structured

I'm a firm believe in the fact that you will need to remain flexible with your plans and routines until you have met your students and have gotten to know them.  However, you should have a basic idea of how you want your day to be structured.  Once you figure out your schedule from your school administration (preparation times, specials schedules, duty times) you will need to plan the basic flow of your day.  In general I have done Literacy in the morning, Math in the middle of the day, and Social Studies, Science, and Art in the afternoons (with Literacy mixed in there as well).  You might also want to think about planning a Morning Meeting daily, as well as a read-aloud session separate from your literacy lesson.

E) Designate spaces in the classroom for particular activities

Depending on your style of teaching, you will need to plan your classroom to suit the various parts of your curriculum.  Do you need a writing center or will students complete writing tasks at their desk?

  Are your students going to have assigned seats or flexible seating?  Do you have a carpet area?  What materials would be handy to have close by to your teaching area?

Do you have a guided reading table?  It's nice to set up your classroom in zones that have clear uses, but that can also double/triple their uses for other tasks throughout the day.  In my room, my guided reading table is where I teach guided reading/writing/and math, and also where students gather for science experiments or to work on group projects.

Think through the work spaces and teaching spaces and plan the walls close to them to suit the needs.  I have my CAFE board posted behind my guided reading table so that we can refer to it during guided reading lessons.

 I originally had it posted in my carpet area where I teach whole group, but found that it wasn't handy for when I was really referring to it in small groups.  Plan it out, but be flexible if you find something isn't working later on!

Be Prepared

The first week of school can be a bit overwhelming.  There are new faces, new expectations, last minute changes, and many demands on our time.  It's essential to have many activities ready to go so that you are never left scrambling for things to do with your students.  I probably tend to be an over-planner because I am well aware that I can always use extra printables, lessons, or ideas later if I run out of time to use them on the day I had originally planned to use them.

1) Lessons for the first week of school

Some of  my favorite activities involve "get to know you" activities, name activities, and review/assessment activities that allow me to get a better understanding of where my students are academically.  It's ideal to have a balance between paper and pencil, whole group, partner, and movement activities every day.

I like to introduce myself to my students by charting information about me.  I do this activity by doing it on chart paper in front of the children.  If I am going to ask the children to share things about themselves, it only seems fair that I should share about myself first.

We collect information about the class by doing numbers about the students in the class.  I do a quick number talk about how many boys and girls we have, and then the students complete their own sheet.  Then they get autographs from some of the students in their class.
 We do a lot of goal-setting in my class.  We spend time brainstorming on a chart, and then each student fills out their own goal sheet.  We display these during Open House and talk about them during student-led conferences as well.
 Depending on the group of students (and the grade I'm teaching that year) I also do some letter or digraph activities.  This also gives me the opportunity to see some of their fine motor skills and do some discussion around school supplies, storage, and those kinds of routines.
 Name activities are a *must* in the first week and beyond.  We do some graphing, sorting, and discussion about vowels and consonants.

While these activities might be most appropriate for K and 1 students, I also have a separate set of  activities that I've used with 2nd and 3rd Grade students such as these:  

 Click for Back to School Printables

2) Filler activities for the first week of school

Be sure to have a good supply of filler activities on hand.  Some ideas are coloring pages (I like to use the title page of my First Week of School pack as a filler activity because it has a purpose as the title page, but it's also just fun to color!  I also like to have color by number pages ready to go.

In addition, simple games like I Spy, Red Elbow, and Simon Says are always good to have at the front of your mind!  If you have a projector and screen you can also introduce your students to GoNoodle and Mind Yeti for energy blasts and calming activities.  I personally prefer to rely on very little technology during the first few days of school, but if everything is all set up and ready to go, why not!

3) Year plan for the rest of the year

If you are able to have a general year plan ready before the start of the school year, that will help reduce a lot of stress for you, especially since you will probably (at least in my experience!) be required to hand it in.  If you are a first year teacher, ASK colleagues at your school or at other schools if they would share theirs with you.  There is no use in "re-inventing the wheel"!  Of course, always base your year plan on the most current learning standards that your district must adhere to.

Be Calm 

1) Don't compare yourself to others

It is so easy in this profession (especially in the digital age!) to compare yourself to others and start feeling like you aren't measuring up to others.  Don't compare yourself to others.  Sure, be inspired by what others are doing, but be very careful with your motivations. One cool idea that you see on Pinterest or on Facebook can take up hours and hours of your time to implement, but it could have little impact on your teaching.  Prioritize.  Don't over decorate! Don't just jump on the bandwagon of Pinterest craftiness just because "everyone" in your Facebook teaching groups is doing it.  Before you invest hours of time and many dollars into projects for your classroom, ask yourself, "Will this benefit my students?  Does the investment of time and money equal the educational/emotional value that will come of it?"  If spending hours making tissue paper flower poufs for your classroom is going to make a big difference for how you feel about your classroom, go for it!  I've done it myself!

One of my previous classrooms.

Don't just do it because you feel pressure.  Spend your time, energy, and money on what actually matters to you.  For me, it's important to have a simple, cheery, and not overly stimulating classroom.  I want to leave a lot of wall space for student art and work samples.   But I spend a lot of time in there, so I do put some effort into decor.  If that's not important to you, let it go and work on other things that matter to you. 

2) Focus on the children- relationships and routines first!

When the first week of school comes, and you have done your prep work of organizing your room and planning your activities, remember that teaching is about the KIDS!  Slow down, take time to get to know your students.  Get lots of eye contact and small group or individual conversation time in.  Make the connections with your students that can make all of the difference!  Take the time to show that you are a caring adult in each student's life. Spend time reading books about "bucket filling" and kindness so that you have a foundation to build your classroom community on.  Teach the children the routines and expectations they need to know to feel safe and to understand that your classroom is a predictable place, but slow down the pace and build relationships!

3) Rest

In the weeks leading up the start of school, take time to rest if at all possible.  Pencil in some days into your summer calendar where to "turn off" your teacher brain.  Stay off of Pinterest for a few days, and don't print or laminate anything!  Once school starts and the routines begin, you will be so thankful that you took advantage of your break to get in some relaxation!

If you have any questions about getting ready for back to school, please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you!

If you are interested in checking out any of my back to school printables to make your preparations easier, you can find them all here: 

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