Noteworthy Voices 2-MIN. READ

Reflect and Connect: Effective Strategies for the First Month Back to School

By: John Hattie 06/20/2023
John Hattie shares what you can do this summer to prepare your students for the new school year.
A teacher smiles as she reads to a class.

Teachers know how important it is to keep the momentum going from one school year into the next. But what can you do this summer to accelerate student growth in that critical first month back to school and sustain it throughout the year? 

Plan Backwards

My research shows that teachers who focus on forward thinking and plan backwards, review student data at the end of the previous school year, talk to other teachers about those students to understand their strengths and where they need to focus, and project where they want their students to be at the end of the first eight to 12 weeks can hit the ground running on day one. 

The following strategies will help you be prepared to accelerate your students’ learning next year:

1. Collaborate with Other Teachers to Improve Your Impact

Your students’ previous teachers can provide valuable insights. What skills do each of your students bring? Where are they starting? What progress have they made? You want to gather enough information from previous teachers to maximize your impact in those first days. 

2. Set High Expectations for Your Students

Data shows that setting high expectations for all students can make all the difference. So, challenge your students with ambitious and attainable goals with measures like Stretch Growth®. Be bold. Believe in them. Expect much, and with your teaching, they will deliver more than they ever realized they could.

3. Establish Explicit Success Criteria for Your Students

When students know exactly what they need to achieve within those first 12 weeks—and receive scaffolded support along the way and progress updates—their likelihood of success dramatically increases. 

4. Develop Systems for Productive Struggle

Success criteria should be built around the “Goldilocks principle”—not too hard, not too easy, and not too boring. You’ll want to create systems for productive struggle that treat errors as an opportunity to learn and challenge students in an appropriate way—not be seen as moments of embarrassment. 

5. Maximize Effective Feedback

Your students’ requirement for feedback is simple. They want to know how to improve—they don’t mainly need reminders about what they did wrong. Clarification and correction are fine as long as you provide improvement feedback as well. 

6. Focus on How Students Learn

It matters less how you teach—it matters more how your students learn. Students need to build “coat hangers”—foundational concepts and strategies to which they can attach facts and ideas. They need to be taught how to consolidate these ideas, relate these ideas to deepen understanding, and extend and transfer these ideas to various contexts.

7. Understand Your Students’ Mind Frames

What are they thinking? What is their understanding of what success looks like? How do they know how they’re doing? Do they feel included in your classroom? It’s important that they feel a sense of belonging and feel invited to come and learn with you.

8. Attend to the Climate and Culture of Your Classroom

You want your students to know they will be treated fairly in your classroom and be in a safe space where it’s not embarrassing to make mistakes. You want them to know you’re there to help them improve and build their sense of confidence.

9. Determine What a Year’s Growth for a Year’s Input Looks Like

One of the most powerful things you can do for your students is to set stretch goals that are challenging but doable. Establish targets above what they would have achieved if your approach was just business as usual. 

10. Beware of the Dangers of the Matthew Effect

This effect is the notion that “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” Sometimes we let students off easy because we assume they don’t have the ability to do better, but we’re not doing them any favors. If students don’t master basic reading and mathematics skills by age 8, they’ll never catch up, so never ignore these basic skills. 

11. Develop Assessment-Capable Students

It’s important to teach students how to evaluate their own data and what to do next. Students should know how to seek help, work with others, interpret their assessment data, and have the confidence to take on challenges to improve.  

12. Evaluate Student Confidence to Take on Challenges

At the beginning of the year, determine your students’ level of confidence. Fewer than two percent of child prodigies become gifted adults because when they enter unfamiliar territory, they’re terrified of being wrong. Establishing a fair, inviting, and predictable place to learn is crucial. 

13. Help Students Make Friends

The biggest predictor of a successful student is whether they make a friend in the first six weeks. That’s why it’s so important to create opportunities for students to get to know each other and create a culture of trust and a sense of community.

Remember that excellence is all around us. Many teachers and schools are making truly substantive differences in students’ lives. By implementing these 13 strategies, you can be one of them. 

For a more in-depth explanation of these strategies and how they can make a difference in your classroom, tune in to this webinar and this episode of the Extraordinary Educators™ Podcast.