Even if the back-to-school jitters have waned, sometimes you just need an infusion of ideas to help jump-start the year. We asked some educators what they do to start the school year off right. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Get to Know Your Students
Understanding who your students are is the first step to helping them learn. But when you work in a middle school and have 140 students, that’s not so easy. Jessica Medley, an eighth grade math teacher in Alabama, said, “I stand at the door and smile at my students as they enter, taking a second to interact with them. I try to remember their names, and I might get them wrong, but I say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m trying.’ Trying matters.” She also “gives them a moment” when they’re having a bad day and lets them know, “I’m here if you need anything.”
Becki Cope, a kindergarten teacher in Mississippi, finds out as much as she can about her students through a parent/guardian questionnaire. Did they go to preschool? Do they have siblings? Do they like blocks? Toy cars? Dolls? Becki had one little boy who loved to fish. She didn’t know anything about fishing, but she used fish as an example throughout the year to pull him into lessons. Older students can fill out their own get-to-know-you sheets that might include who they live with, what their preferred name is, what they like to do outside of school, and their favorite treat.
Zach Pfrimmer, an elementary school teacher in Washington, talks to his students’ teachers from the previous year to better understand his incoming students’ personalities, growth areas, and interests. But since the dynamics of a classroom change based on who’s in it, Zach uses group activities to really understand his students. “I put them in groups to solve the farmer, goose, and wheat challenge together. Some kids get really flustered, others take a leadership role, but I start to see their strengths, which helps me assign table groups and jobs within the classroom,” he said. “I might be teaching the same grade. The same curriculum. But I’m getting to know new people every year.
2. Help Students Set Goals
Joe Flick, a second grade math intervention teacher in New York, said, “Even the youngest students need to set their own goals, or they won’t take ownership of them.” He asks his students, What do you want to learn this year? Who do you want to be? He gives them markers, crayons, and paper so they can make pictures of what they want to look like in December and June, and they review those goals regularly. “I always start with what they’re good at. Maybe they can decompose numbers one through five and want to get to 10 by December. But maybe they’re not so great with shapes, so I ask them what they want to learn.” Joe added, “Fostering a positive mindset in a 6- or 7-year-old will stay with them.”
3. Mentally Prepare for the Year
It’s important to take time to prepare emotionally for the school year. Jamilah Hud-Kirk, an elementary school principal in Georgia, starts by reflecting on the previous year. “We must look back in order to go forward,” she said.
Sharicka Gray, a middle school teacher in Mississippi, elaborated, “I get my mind right. I think about why I’m here. And I remind myself that I’m in a perfect position to make a huge impact on little-bitty people who are going to go out into the world and do big things. Some days will be great. Some won’t. But I know I’m needed.”
For some sample "getting to know you questions" (compliments of the teachers featured in this blog), click here.
Make this year your best year yet. Have a great tip we missed? Share it with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.