I know that some of you on the east coast are just settling into summer vacation. I hope you enjoy every minute. But believe it or not, many teachers in the western U.S. are already planning for back to school. Here in Arizona, we start school later this month!?!
Back to school season brings up a range of emotions: happiness, excitement, sadness, dread, anxiety, and even a little bit of fear. And that’s just for the teachers! 😂 This new school year is no exception. Many teachers and students will be heading back into the classroom for the first time in over a year!
Even if you did teach in person last year, you dealt with a lot of unusual distractions. Hybrid schedules, online learners, social distancing requirements, quarantines, and temporary closures all made school look a little different. It seems like life and school are starting to return to some semblance of normal, which is definitely cause for celebration!
But returning to “normal” is also going to be an adjustment for both students and teachers. While you are no doubt excited to get back to the business of teaching and learning, as usual, you might find yourself or your students feeling overwhelmed. As you start planning for the new school year, here are some things to keep in mind to have your best back to school ever.
Set Realistic Expectations
I once read that the key to not being disappointed is to lower your expectations. And then lower them again.
As a teacher, this can be tough. It is our nature to set high expectations for our students (and, ahem, ourselves), because we know that overcoming challenges is the best way to grow. But it is important that we start the year with realistic expectations.
The last two academic years have been anything but normal. Some kids have been out of school since March of 2020. Others have only gone to school a couple of days a week under hybrid schedules. Those who were in school may have missed chunks of time for quarantines or illness, or transitioned to online learning repeatedly throughout the year.
Access to technology and resources varied greatly. As did school rules governing things like small groups, specials, and extracurricular activities.
While we are all excited to get back into the classroom with our students, it is important to remember that some kids might be apprehensive about going back to the classroom. Kids who are used to spending extended periods with their families might feel lonely or scared.
Meet Kids Where They Are
The media loves to report how the pandemic has caused students to “fall behind” academically. While I’d like to banish those words, it is important to recognize that after two years of disrupted schooling, students may not be entering your classroom with all the skills you typically expect.
But that’s really not unusual. Each school year you have a few students who are above grade level, many students right on track, and a handful of students who are below grade level. As a teacher, you are prepared to meet each of these kids where they are.
The only thing different about this new school year is you might have more kids in that “below grade level” group. Rather than fret about what your students don’t know, simply begin instruction where they are.
Pre-assessments in reading, writing, and math can help you figure out what your students know. They also allow you to tailor your introductory lessons to meet your students’ needs. And they provide a baseline so you can measure growth throughout the year. Even if your students don’t meet all the typical benchmarks, the pre-assessments will serve as evidence of how much your students did learn.
Work on Community Building
The pandemic has been tough on kids mentally. Many have felt isolated and lonely. Connecting through the computer is not the same as being part of a classroom community.
When students return to your classroom it’s important to devote time to building a classroom community. As you establish classroom procedures and routines be sure to talk about what makes a good classmate and what a community of learners looks like, sounds like, says, and does. Our Back to School Procedures Board Game is a fun way to review classroom expectations and help kids get to know one another.
Speaking of challenges, they are also a good way to help kids develop a growth mindset. A growth mindset is so important to academic success. But it doesn’t always come naturally. It’s a good idea to help your kiddos develop a growth mindset at the beginning of the year. This post contains lots of ideas about how to teach growth mindset in the classroom. Or you can use these fun, interactive, no-prep growth mindset activities for an easy way to inspire your kids to take a can-do attitude.
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Plan Quiet Time
The beginning of a new school year is always exhausting. Imagine how much more exhausting it will be for kids who haven’t been to school regularly in over a year. The noise, activities, and just being surrounded by other people for eight hours at a time might be overwhelming for some students.
Be sure to build some quiet time into your school day during those first few weeks. You can let kids read or draw quietly. If you have access to technology in your classroom, some free time to play some educational games is always a big hit with students. Dim the lights, play some quiet music, and just let kids relax for a few minutes in the afternoon.
If possible, try to go outside every day. Sunlight and fresh air are good for everyone. And many kids will not be used to being cooped up in a classroom all day long.
In addition to recess, consider going outside for writing, reading, or even a science lesson. You can let students solve word problems or write spelling words with sidewalk chalk on the playground, do a read aloud under a tree, or let students practice math facts or skip counting outdoors.
Make Learning Fun
It can be tricky to keep kids engaged at the beginning of the school year. The transition from playing outside to sitting at a desk all day can be tough. But the more fun and interactive your lessons are, the more likely kids will stay interested in learning.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when lesson planning for those first few weeks. Try to keep your lessons short. Use mini lessons to introduce a topic or new skill and then let kids practice on their own or in small groups. Give students the opportunity to get out of their seats and move around the classroom. Back to school math centers are a great way to give kids hands-on opportunities for learning.
Just Go With It
Finally, give your students, and yourself, grace this school year. As much as we all want to get back into the classroom with our kids, there are bound to be moments when things don’t go as planned. Whether it’s students acting out or refusing to follow directions or you losing your cool, remember that nobody is perfect.
And tomorrow is another day.
Have a Not So Wimpy day,