Though summer break is already underway, it’s never too soon to start planning for fall. So much back-to-school planning is centered around building relationships and setting expectations. But have you considered how data can play into that—and how you can use data to drive instruction? John Hattie explains that teachers who review data from the previous school year, set aside time for collaboration, and map out where students should be at the end of the first eight to 12 weeks of school are setting their students up for success.
Now, let’s be honest. That can sound like a lot on top of all the things you’re already tasked with. Being a former teacher myself, I know that back to school is one of the busiest seasons! However, Hattie’s recommendations will give you more time to build relationships, set strong classroom norms, and help your students understand that you plan to hold them to higher standards from the get-go. Let’s review Hattie’s advice.
Review Data from Last Year
The idea of looking at data from last year may seem counterintuitive. If you’re reading this with that thought in mind, I get it—I was the teacher who wanted students to start fresh. I did everything I could to avoid hearing what my students accomplished last year, both academically and behaviorally, so that they came into my classroom as blank slates. But knowing what I know now, I should have walked down the hallway with my class roster in hand, ready to dive into the data with their previous teacher.
Discussing key data points from the end of the year with prior teachers is a great place to start. Where are those students at for reading and math? Can you take a look at their writing samples? Ask for specifics around what worked and what didn’t work for each student? While you’re at it, talk about their likes and dislikes. This will help set your relationship building up for success as soon as those students walk in on the first day.
Set High Expectations
Having high expectations for students has the highest impact on learning. A great way to challenge them is to understand what they learned last year and set specific goals for them to reach by the end of the first quarter. The data you gather isn’t going to sit in the “to be filed” pile on the corner of your desk. Being purposeful about incorporating this data will let your students know you take their learning seriously and expect them to do their best.
Collaborate for Collective Teacher Efficacy
Collective teacher efficacy also has one of the largest impacts on student learning—and it starts with collaboration. However, it’s more than that. Your collaborative conversations should include analyzing data, discussing growth, and making plans to address student needs.
It’s also important to note that collaboration should not stop once school starts. When I was teaching, I found it helpful to have an agenda shared between teachers with whom I co-taught and collaborated. As something came up that I knew I wanted to discuss, I would simply add it to the agenda to discuss at our next weekly meeting.
The beginning of the school year is typically dedicated to a lot of relationship building—not only between you and your students, but between students themselves. Once you have a basic understanding of what your students are bringing to your classroom, you’ll have more time to create strong relationships with them and between them. With a more solid foundation of your students’ likes and dislikes, relationships will build more organically.
Map the First Few Weeks
After compiling data and collaborating effectively, it’s time to dust off your handy-dandy planning book and start chipping away at the first eight to 12 weeks of school! With lots of information to consider, planning out lessons will go more smoothly. You already know what scaffolds you will need to provide so your students can access grade-level content and what challenges you can offer to accelerate learning. Most importantly, you know that you have what your new students will need to feel supported—a classroom structured around high expectations and strong relationships.
For a more in-depth explanation of data-driven decision making in education, watch John Hattie’s webinar.