Saturday, August 2, 2014

Eight Things That Should be at the Top of Teachers' To-Do Lists for the Beginning of the Year


I am a list-maker. BIG TIME. I love the feeling of crossing a completed task off of my to-do list and watch the crossed off items overpower the unfinished work. I have lists everywhere, for every thing. Some are categorized...some are random thought-vomits onto a paper. (Sorry if that was graphic.) I am so bad that when I finish a task and go to cross it off and find it's not there...I will add it just to cross it off. Embarrassing, but true. At the beginning of each school year, my to-do lists are what keep me focused and organized so that I get everything accomplished before students step in that first day. And I will be honest. Never has everything been accomplished before the first day. But, I organize my lists so that the most crucial get done in time. Then, the rest trickle to completion as I have time. I have realized which things fall into that crucial pile and which should be the tricklers. (Tricklers? Maybe I just made that word up...it's cool!) Here is my list of the crucials. Get these things crossed off and your beginning-of-the-year-confidence will be very high!



1. Build a rapport with parents. This is going to be unique for each teacher and the parents for his/her class, but here are a few fail-proof suggestions:

  • Call every students' parents. Wow! Really, Kacie?! Some of us secondary teachers have 120+ students. Yes, I know. This is a huge undertaking. Try chunking your students into groups and tackling one chunk each week. Maybe chunk them by class period, or by needs, or behavioral concerns. Or just sit down and go down the alphabetical list. Make positive contact. This serves several purposes. It builds a basic rapport with the parent. Let them know you are supportive of the student and will partner with them to ensure their success. Then, say one nice thing you have noticed about the student so far. It also allows parents to hear a positive message about their child. I'm sure you've heard it before, but parents really do like for their kids to be complimented. It works for those parents who rarely hear positive comments. But it also works wonders for the parents of the well-behaved children. They rarely have contact with teachers because the need is not there. They will be thrilled! Here are some example sayings. I suggest writing out some ideas of what you want to say before you call. "Hi, Ms. Johnson. This is Mrs. Travis, Audrey's teacher. I am calling to touch base with you and let you know that it is a pleasure to get to teach Audrey. She has been so helpful to the students new to our district this week. I am looking forward to getting to know her better and want you to know that I will work with you to help ensure her success in this class. Please contact me if you have any questions." 
  • Create those cool Get-To-Know the teacher brochures or foldables that are all over Pinterest. Or just write a friendly letter that tells about yourself. Let students and parents get to know you personally, to some level, so they remember that you are a person. With a life. It goes a long way in that rapport-building I mentioned above.
  • Use the Remind App (formally Remind 101), email lists, your blog, etc., to communicate with parents. Parents love to have the option to be in the loop. After talking with parents who receive my mass communications, they love it! They would admit that they don't always read each one, but they loved knowing it was there. They expected them weekly and liked them, even if they didn't necessarily need them.

2. Plan, plan, plan. And not just lessons. Plan for everything you can think of! Some ideas:

  • What is the most effective way to arrange the desks? 
  • What about seating charts for the first week? 
  • Seating charts after the first week?
  • How will I get to know the students? (Try this!)
  • How will the students get to know each other?
  • How will I group them for activities?
  • What test data and accommodations do I need to know before I meet them?
  • What anecdotal data do I need? Who can I ask?
  • How long do I spend on team building activities? Classroom procedures?
  • When will I begin teaching content?
  • What will I do during my prep period? (Hint: Be sure to have a plan! It is too easy to get to talking to others or have a mental zone-out. Use it wisely! At the very least, have a list of things you need to accomplish and challenge yourself to get as many things crossed off as possible. Don't forget to reward yourself, too!)


3. Post your standards. I know some districts and states require this, and I think that's good. I don't care if you're required to. I think it is important either way. Having them posted serves you and the students. The standards in the form of "I can" statements are very popular now. I think they are great, but I think the important thing is to have the standards posted. In whichever language you like. I have two preps this year- Geometry and Bridge to Algebra II. Since that is a lot of combined standards, I will sort them by unit and only post the ones necessary for the current unit.

4. Know your students. It is important to gather as much information as you can about your students. Read their files and any writing samples you have access to, look at their data and scores, speak with other teachers, find out if you have taught their siblings (or parents). I like to know as much about my students as I can so I can begin making connections early. I like to pour over their files and speak to former teachers. I want to know anything that can help me build those all-important relationships early. However, I want you to take this advice with a grain of salt. I am fortunate that I have been in a building that is very supportive of students and would build them up. There were only a couple teachers I knew who were very negative and I intentionally avoided their input. I want to know things that are helpful, but I don't think having a negative perspective of a child is helpful. I am not saying avoid all bad stuff. Poor academic results can be helpful, but hearing about how much someone dislikes a child in your class is not. So, seek to get to know your students, but only seek out the helpful information.


5. Have your room ready.  Be the master of your domain. (Not in the Seinfeld way.) Try to have your decorations hung and ready for students' first visit. For the last several years, our open house has been several days before the first day of school. I wanted parents and students to walk in and feel at home from that first instant. I wanted the first impression to be one of organization, calming atmosphere, with a pleasant aroma. I didn't want it to be cluttered or unfinished. Now, I am sure they would understand because they knew the first days was still several days off. But there is something to be said for presentation. Not only is it important for those seeing your room, it keeps you from scrambling the night before the first day of school. Once your room is ready, it is easier to sit down and do the planning. Disclaimer: I know some teachers don't have access to their rooms until the last minute. I am one of those this year. The teacher who had my room last year is moving to a room that is not built and isn't predicted to be complete until the weekend before school starts on Monday. So, in the meantime, I am getting everything printed and organized at home as much as possible, so moving and decorating will be as painless as possible.

6. Think ahead.  Map out your year. Or at least your semester. Take a blank calendar and fill it with all of the school planned events that you know will disrupt class. Get a big, broad picture of what your year will look like. Estimate the lengths of your units. Then, understand (and expect) that things will change. Be prepared and stay calm. You have thought ahead already, so you know places that you can make adjustments. What is that saying? "Failing to plan is planning to fail?" I am not saying you will fail. That's harsh, but the idea applies. Planning ahead will make your life so much simpler! I promise!

7. Get to know the secretary and janitors.   These great people are the keys to a happy year. I would also add the counselors, depending on their roles at your school. They are the people who know how to get things and get things done. A little treat or extra kind words go a long way! I highly recommend treating them in high regard!

8. Have all your procedures in place and know how you are going to teach them.  Procedures are the key to a well-run classroom. Procedures are not rules. They are the oil that makes the gears work smoothly. When procedures are done well, the students in the classroom have fewer discipline problems and make more academic gains than those where they are not taught or there are none. It is important to understand that having a list of what your procedures are will not be enough. That is a great start. Make sure you have thought of everything and chosen plans that you are able and willing to follow through on. They won't work if you aren't consistent. Then, you must explicitly teach each procedure. It doesn't take as long as it sounds like it would, but it's important, so find a way to make it fun! Have them get involved and practice each one. Then, and here is the kicker...you must assess them on the procedures. Hold the students accountable. They should all do well because they are simple tasks, they were taught in a meaningful way, and they practiced. It will take longer at the beginning of the year to do this, but I ensure you that this time will be given back to you times two (or more)! Not only will you make that time back up quickly, you will stay more sane and positive. One added benefit is on days you are absent, your students keep the procedures. It is nice to know you can be gone and your students know what to do without you. If you need some guidance or more ideas, I offer this product that I made from how I present my procedures. I teach them with a PowerPoint in the form of "Questions About This Class You Didn't Know You Had." It is filled with useful tips and suggestions in the Notes section. I have also added a brain break every few slides. It is easy to edit to fit your needs and has blank slides for you to add your own. But, if you need something tomorrow, you could also purchase and be good to go. There are two color themes. One is colorful, polka-dot and the other is navy and green. 


Navy and Green Theme Procedure PowerPoint



Bright Polka-Dot Theme Procedure PowerPoint
 I sincerely wish you the best school year ever. If you ever have questions, I would be happy to help! But for now I can do this. Blog Post. Great feeling!