As we return to our classrooms for a new school year, educators have many things on their minds. Class schedules, grading, lesson plans, school assemblies, observations, and more. Getting back into a daily learning schedule can be a challenge, especially after the summer is “off.”
However, many educators don’t actually take the summer off, instead using the extra time for professional training. By attending conferences, joining book studies, participating in online learning activities, or even going into your classroom to prepare it for the new school year, being prepared because the school is always in the minds of the teachers. It’s nice to have a summer vacation, even if it’s just a few weeks, because it gives you time to relax and recharge, as well as time to prepare better than the year before.
No matter how many years of experience an educator has, the new school year can be stressful because of all the challenges we face and of course the challenges we have faced over the past two years. Going from fully virtual to hybrid and back to in-person learning while trying to keep learning and balance has not been easy. Because of this, it’s important to start the year with goals and use our previous experiences to set some bullet points for ourselves and our students.
Over the years, I remember talking to colleagues and teacher friends about how they couldn’t sleep the night before the first day of school, attributing it to the excitement and nervousness of starting a new school year and making sure everything worked out. For me it was always the second day and every day after that.
For years, the first day of school was simply a time to introduce myself to the students, talk about what they could expect in my classroom, and provide any materials they needed to take home for their families. I started each year with rules and procedures. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that content could wait. I should have placed more emphasis on creating a supportive classroom community and focused on building relationships first. Before the start of the year, I ask myself a few questions:
- Have I given enough thought to my teaching practice and have I identified the areas I want and need to work on?
- Am I prepared for new ideas, whether different methods or digital tools, to bring to my classroom to help engage students in learning?
- What are some ways we can build relationships and get to know each other?
- How can I create a comfortable classroom space that fosters creativity and curiosity for learning?
There are still many questions in my mind. It boils down to reflecting and reflecting on what we have learned about our practices and methods used in the past school year. What activities and methods have impacted student learning and the development of essential social-emotional learning (SEL) skills? What methods or tools helped students feel more connected to their classmates as well as the content? When we create a learning environment where students have choices, feel comfortable and become more confident, it increases their learning potential. This leads to a supportive classroom community.
As we approach a new school year, it’s always the perfect time to try out a few new ideas and see how students respond to gauge the impact it might have on learning and then decide what to do next. Teaching the content of the material is important, but so is finding ways to increase student engagement and promote the development of core SEL skills. With so many things to consider, here are my top five takeaways for the start of the new school year:
1. Build relationships: From day one, we must get to know our students and let them get to know us. When we create opportunities for students to connect with each other and create spaces for collaboration and support, we will see how this positively affects the learning that takes place in our classroom. By starting with relationship building, we will create a space where students feel comfortable making mistakes and know that we and their peers support them. Creating a comfortable, supportive space is essential for learning. Have students create an “About Me” or use icebreakers to get to know each other and make sure you’re involved too.
2. Set goals and think: At the beginning of the school year, ask students to set some goals for themselves in your classroom. Not only for students, it is also important that we set goals and share them with our students. When we do this together, we hold each other accountable and provide the support we all need in our classroom. We know the importance of SEL, and by setting and reflecting on goals throughout the year, we will focus on self-awareness and self-management in particular, which are important to student learning and future preparation. Ask some thinking questions, such as: How do I think things went? What would I change? Are there areas I can improve?
3. Create a community: Students need to know how to access classroom resources and be able to communicate with their teacher and classmates. It is important to create a space or have a system in place to be able to communicate with students. Sending an email every Friday summarizing the week, using an instant messaging program, or developing a class website are all good ways to create a learning community. It’s important to have a space where students can interact and access the resources they need to succeed, and we’ve certainly learned how important that is after our experiences over the past couple of years. Another thing to consider is how to attract students more in designing the learning experience in the classroom and for them to really be part of the learning community.
4. Facilitating cooperation: In preparing students for the future, we know that one of the skills they need is the ability to communicate and collaborate with others. Students need opportunities to do this in the classroom as well as in the virtual space. Using different methods such as alternating stations, for example where students can work with peers, or using digital tools such as Turn overGoogle Jamboard or Spaces, we can facilitate cooperation. Students can develop content area skills while developing digital citizenship and SEL skills.
5. Develop creativity and curiosity for learning: When we create a learning environment where students feel welcome and supported, they will feel more comfortable participating in class, interacting with their peers, and taking risks in their learning. Give students a variety of opportunities to create and share what they’ve learned. Use techniques like Genius Hour or PBL to spark curiosity and promote student-centered learning. Offer a selection of digital tools that encourage creativity, e.g The creator of the book, Bansi, Canva, Sincerely, Storybird or Storyboard That.
Start the year with some key areas and engage students in discussion. Get their feedback, ask for ideas, and enjoy the learning process together. Don’t be afraid to take risks with new ideas or tools. With the help of new ideas, we can increase the activity and creativity of students, ignite curiosity about learning, and the needs and interests of students will be better satisfied.