Teaching with innovation and intent.
Here are five important actions you should take now to prepare yourself for the new school year: long range planning integration, over-planning your first term, communicating with parents and colleagues, organizing your classroom, and sharing responsibilities with students and colleagues.
Dust off your documents and map out a long range plan for the year. Because we are looking at hundreds of curriculum expectations per grade, it is pretty clear that we can’t fit them all in one by one. So, you need to integrate your subjects. The most basic way to integrate is to the “kill two birds with one stone” method. Some examples:
The next level of integration is do almost all of your reading, writing, oral language, and media literacy within other subject strands. Start with a writing form like persuasive letter, explanatory paragraph, or descriptive report, then look for resources that match things up. If you are working on Structures and Stability during your explanatory paragraph unit, then bookmark texts, articles, and videos that explain how triangular shapes support bridges, for example. Deconstruct the strategies and features authors use to explain while learning scientific concepts. See how I have organized our Grade 3/4 year in this mind map (sorry it just happened to flow backwards).
Sometimes everything in an integrated plan just revolves perfectly around a global focus or theme which links all of the parts of the curriculum together. This is particularly useful when teaching split grades. Look for these in the “application” section of the Science and Social Studies curriculums. Try things like natural resource sustainability, suburban land use and agriculture, tourism and the arts, cyclical change,… A class blog and multi-media platforms can help you take these themes to the next level. Students collaborate on projects which have a real impact. Here is an example of how our class learned the process of purposeful persuasion with a school-wide Trash Bash.
Oh, and remember that your long range plans are for YOU and your students. Write them to prevent any frantic flailing later on in the year.
Over-Plan the Weeks Ahead
It is likely that you will not catch your breath until mid October. That will last about 5 minutes before you need to start report cards. At that point, you’ll be making sure you have enough strands covered and assessed in time. So, have your weekly planning already done. Include holidays and special events that will take away from your normal instructional time. Also include instructional time for teaching skills (eg. working in groups) and procedures (eg. lining up for Phys. Ed.) that need practice. If you are struggling to fit things in, integrate, but also try starting from the end and working backwards.
Once the year starts you should flex to the needs and interests of your students, but do not alter your predetermined timelines because report cards will come up fast. If your plans are ready to go before term 1 starts, then you should be able to focus your attention on assessment, IEP’s, and classroom management – things that will depend on your classroom makeup.
Send a postcard to your students during the week before schools starts. This will ease up a lot of difficult nervous feelings on the first day of school. Introduce yourself to parents on the yard before the bell rings on the first day of school. Send home an introductory letter to parents that day telling them about yourself. Invite parents to write back, ask them about themselves and what they want for their child’s education. Their response will tell you a lot about the support you will receive and how often you should stay in touch. Don’t forget to provide the envelope and stationary.
Send your class newsletter after the first week so that it doesn’t get lost in the piles of school-wide forms, letters, and information. Include information about school supplies, lunches, water bottles, indoor shoes, Phys. Ed. and Library days, and so on. Let parents know what else you will expect of them in terms of homework, agendas, reading logs, and signatures. Consider your own time commitments when planning communication. Offer daily agenda notes from the teacher upon request. Some reminders and tidbits of information can be photocopied, cut-out, and stapled into student agendas. Whatever you decide, keep it simple and consistent. See a sample of my weekly newsletter which includes a checklists for behaviour/learning skills and for completed homework. The article in your weekly newsetter can also be posted on your classroom blog with a simple cut and paste. Remember to pass along newsletter copies or links to your administrator, your teaching partner, and your prep coverage teachers.
Once you are physically in your classroom, ready to set up, do not get caught up in decorating. With a few exceptions, bulletin boards will be created by your students. Leave them blank! The above items are far more important. There are a few additional things you can do in the classroom to get organized:
Put down on paper your expectations for your students in terms of routines, learning skills, work habits, behavior, and quality of work. Think about these in different situations: in line, in the lunchroom, in the gym, at an assembly, during transitions, during collaborative work, during class discussion, during instruction, at dismissal, and so on. Which of these expectations are skills that need to be practiced? Which are social and behavioural challenges that require class discussions and creative problem solving? And which are developmental processes that can gradually be handed over to the students?
Students should share the responsibilities in the classroom. You may be fortunate enough to have a class of students who are able to manage things on their own. If not, you can still move in that direction as the school year progresses. Besides watering the plants, they can be checking homework, announcing transitions, giving noise reminders, recording class meeting notes, etc. Have them fill out job applications and keep their positions for the whole year unless renegotiated. This doesn’t mean that you are not in charge. Guide them toward the expectations that you have planned. Students will feel greater ownership and pride when they have been part of the classroom management process. This will go a long way when dealing with a student who has crossed the line or acted disrespectfully.
Share your plans and processes with your colleagues so they can help you follow up with students on the yard, in the hallway, or during prep periods. Find out what their expectations are so that you can do the same for them.
A Final Note
Be wary of hyping up about the first days of school. Be prepared, but give yourself some time to enjoy the final days of your summer holiday. Visit colleagues in their classrooms to find out what they have learned over the summer, to compliment, and to encourage. Don’t make judgements and comparisons, even if they are just in your mind. Be a resource to others as they prepare for the year ahead. When you finally meet your students, be yourself and enjoy every opportunity to learn together. Have a great year!