5 Ways to Make this the Best School Year EVER

Teachers generally approach the new school year in one of two ways. Either we are super energized and hit the ground running, or in full on panic mode thinking of everything we have to do.

Or, most likely, we fall into both categories.

No matter which way you feel when the new school year begins, here are 5 tips for making this year the best year ever!

1. Plan out as much of your first week as you can

As teachers, there's a lot of things we need to cover in the first week. School policies, rules, consequences, procedures, homework, supplies, fire drills...the list goes on and on. This is all important but it's not exactly the most exciting material!

When I begin to plan for the first week of school, I try to keep in mind that my students and I have very different agendas in mind while heading back to school. I want them to know everything there is to know in order to make the class run smoothly. My students want to know: when recess is, when lunch is, and when will they get to see their friends who aren't in their class this year. 

It can be hard for our students to sit still and listen to everything we have to talk about, especially when their brains are still in summer mode! How can I make sure that they hear everything they need to hear, but at the same time respect the fact that they are young and have the attention span of gnats (on a good day)? 

Since the first week is generally light curriculum-wise (for good reason...imagine having to get all this information across AND having to dive right into the books?) I try to look at my schedule and arrange it into 30 minute blocks. I figure out how many 30 minute blocks I have, and plan an activity for each block. While planning, I alternate a "must do" activity (for example, learning about the rules and consequences) with a fun activity that gets my students out of their seats and moving. This way, I'm able to go over what I need to, and my students don't die of boredom. Win/win!

Activities such as my Back to School Interview and Back to School Super Bingo are great for the first week. They are fun, AND you can still sneak a bit of procedure learning in there (appropriate voice levels, how to move around the classroom, the polite way to pick a partner, so on and so forth)!

2. Set Up Systems for Homework

I'm not exaggerating by saying my life has changed since I began using my Fiction and Nonfiction Menus and Spelling Choice Board as my homework for the whole year. I've received such great feedback from parents, students, and fellow teachers about both products. My favorite part is that once the initial set-up is complete, the effort on your part is done! Students have everything they need to complete their work, and parents can use the examples and checklists included to help check everything before it is turned in. 

For example, my Spelling Choice Board needs to be set up once and can be used all year long, with any word list. All you need for each student is a notebook.

Glue these two pages to the front of the notebook...

Use some of your time in the first few weeks to go over the activities, and your expectations for neatness, completion, etc. 

As you grade, it's simply a matter of checking items off the rubric:

4 to a page to save ink/paper

On the Choice Board, students have to complete 1 MUST DO activity and then pick 3 choices from a variety of activities that are based on the multiple intelligences. There are 27 activities in total, which means students won't get bored!

That's how I handle spelling! You can read more about how I set up my reading homework at this link: Fiction and Nonfiction Homework Menus. This product includes examples of each activity that I have students glue right into their notebooks:

I can tell you I save a TON of time with these two products. The rubrics provided with both make it easy for me to grade each notebook quickly on Friday. In addition, I'm not constantly fielding questions from students and parents about what needs to be done for homework and when it is due. Can't beat that!

3. Effectively Communicate with Parents

Over the past few years, I have really made an effort to strengthen my relationships with my students' parents. I want to get as many of them involved as possible, and I want them to feel welcome and comfortable to bring any concerns they may have to me.

(If you'd like to read more about how I establish relationships with parents at the beginning of the year, check out this post: 5 Ways to Get Parents Excited About the New School Year!)

One of the best tools for communicating your expectations is a parent handbook. I use my Editable ABCs of Our Classroom (it's a freebie!) to list EVERYTHING I think parents might have questions about throughout the school year. This way, there are no surprises and everyone is on the same page. My goal is to eliminate the "I wasn't aware of that" conversations to the best of my ability, and this handbook really helps with that.

Here is a sample of what the handbook looks like when filled out:

4. Encourage Your Students to Work Together

Collaboration is huge in my classroom. Students work with partners and groups daily. I encourage them to work together as much as possible, and try to figure out problems together without my assistance.

One way I manage to do this is with my Multiple Intelligence Classroom Helper Posters. We tailor a lot of our instruction to the multiple intelligences, and each student takes an MI inventory at the beginning of the year. From the inventory, students find out how they learn best, but I took it a step further with these posters to show them how they can help others learn.

Once students take the inventory, they can write down their name on the "smart" poster they most identify with, and then, to take it a step further, write down an "area of expertise." When students are working on projects, they can look at these posters to find people to collaborate with. 

Something I love about these posters is the collaboration can extend outside of the classroom. Students who want to learn how to play soccer can find a classmate who is an "expert" to help them out on the field!

With these posters, the students know they are expected and encouraged to help each other. This sets the tone for the classroom community for the whole year!

5. Challenge Yourself to Do Something Different

Recently, I've read a few articles about the importance of having open-ended assignments. These articles made me think...what are we really teaching students if we tell them exactly what we want and expect all their work (especially projects) to look the same?

As I've started my planning for this school year, I am looking for activities that require students to interpret the directions on their own and come up with their own unique end products. I don't want 25 maps of the United States colored exactly the same on my bulletin board. I want a variety of projects that show the individual strengths of each student.

This is one of the reasons I like choice boards so much. Even though the students may have the same parameters at the beginning of each activity, the way they choose to complete them is totally up to them, which results in every student turning in something different.

There are a variety of choice boards available in my store, including my Back to School Choice Board, perfect for this time of year!

By the way, if you love choice boards as much as I do, I have bundled all of mine together. My Choice Board Growing Bundle includes all the choice boards I currently have, and will include every choice board I make from this point on. The bundle will be at its lowest price EVER during the sale, so make sure to grab it now!

Thanks for reading! I'm hoping you have the #BESTYEAREVER!

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