As Target begins their back to school discount week and other stores restock their school supplies, teachers begin to think about their upcoming school year, principals begin planning their vision for the year and students start pulling out their backpacks from under their beds.
A new school year is just around the corner.
Some teachers are anxious to begin, brand new teachers are looking forward to getting their classroom Pinterest ready, and some teachers are soaking in the sun and rejuvenating every last second. As I look back on my teaching career, I can remember my best year ever – my classroom was a well-oiled machine, students learned to become independent thinkers motivated with a ‘can-do’ attitude, scores were high, students were socially and emotionally successful and I LOVED every minute of it.
Here are a few things that I did strategically before and during the year to prepare for my Best School Year Ever.
Revisit and Write out teaching Philosophy
I was working on my master’s degree that summer, and applying for my current position as an instructional coach. I had to visit my teaching philosophy for my resume and interviews. The classroom vision is tied directly into this philosophy. As I was revisiting it that summer, I noticed that during the previous school year I had let some of those beliefs get away from me, and I was not at all showcasing my own philosophy in my instructional craft.
I rewrote this philosophy and made sure it was in visible location- near my computer, near my desk and my lesson plan book to make sure that EVERYTHING that I did during that school year, every decision I made connected back to the most important thing – my WHY.
Identify your Why- click the link to read more about how to do this
Set specific goals
As in most businesses, setting goals is very important for a successful year, but I have found that keeping my goal setting topics specific allowed me to have my best year ever. That particular year, I wanted to focus my attention on the mindset of the students, the communication and relationships with the parents of my students, and student autonomy. So I…
Student Mindset – Introduce the Power of Yet with quotes in the room and morning meetings with my students (click on the link to read more about my journey with the Growth Mindset)
I even started ‘Shout Out Friday’s’ where my students stood in a large circle, tossed a ball around while they gave each other shout outs on their perseverance, participation, and partnerships in the classroom.- we became a family of ‘go getters’ and encouragers.
Autonomy: I was reading and learning a lot about student autonomy and how much student choice drives student buy-in. I knew the importance of student autonomy, but I had no idea the impact it would make on scores, reading levels, student mindset etc… I embraced the daily 5 and the CAFE menu, dabbled in Genius hour and guided reading became my primary focus. *click on the link to find out 10 tips on making the Daily 5 student-centered
(That school year, I had 96% of 5th grade readers pass the state assessment in reading)
Keep your goals very specific- What outcome do you want? Why do you want it? How will you achieve it?
keep them measurable – How do you know that the students or you have reached the goal? Can you measure it?
Keep time frames and check-in with your goals- At the beginning of the year, setting goals and focusing on those can be easy, but as the year moves on we can lose sight of what is important. Keep your goals near your lesson planner, computer, instructional podium etc…
Work smarter, not harder. After looking at data from standardized assessments vertically and within the grade, talk with your vertical teams- gather information.
- What did this class struggle with the most last year?
- What was genuinely difficult for them to understand?
- What strategies did the previous grade level teach? try to expand their toolkit.
- What did this group of students catch onto quickly? Where could I possibly start extending the learning?
- Identify the Readiness and Supporting Standards
- Skim the district Scope and Sequence and try to identify what the district believes is most crucial
- Most important- Keep the end in mind
Identify the Needs of the group and the difficulties of the grade level.
With all of this data, I was able to identify what objectives/skills my students may struggle with and vice versa – what they may need extended learning on. Going into a school year with this much information is like watching game film before heading out onto the field against an opponent.
I was able to create my very own scope and sequence that followed the guidelines of the district setting different timeframes based on student needs based on data points.
Adjust and tweak along the road as short cycle assessment results are turned in and reviewed, after daily exit tickets are observed and conferences with students are going on. Teachers are known for their flexibility and ability to adjust for ‘teachable moments’.
If you aren’t a data person- find your instructional coach or someone on the team that can help you with this.
Communicate with parents
My best year ever included the partnership with the students’ parents. Before this, I felt like the Lone Ranger or the ‘Bad guy’ at times. But, the year I decided to make sure communication was clear, consistent and constant through emails, newsletters, communication app and Frequent PHONE CALLS I had the best year EVER!!!! WE were partners in their scholar’s success.
There were times, I sat at my desk in the evenings and called 15 parents to let them know how well their scholar did in class that day or on an exit ticket or a funny comment they made in class. And there were many mornings I would receive a hug and smile in the morning from an excited student who went on a celebratory dinner or ice cream trip because of the good news I phoned home.
Fill their buckets- before the year gets too far away from you, Call Every single home AND send
home positive notes to every single student in your classroom. The first phone call from a teacher to a parent should be a positive one- remember what they say about FIRST IMPRESSIONS.
If there is a Misunderstanding or a “situation” at school- CALL Home. Everyone is just a little bit more understanding when they can ask questions, discuss their concerns and communicate.
If you believe the student is acting different from their normal – CALL HOME! As a parent, I want to know if my boys, Charles or Henry, are misbehaving or acting different from normal. This shows you genuinely care about their child whom you spend so much time.
If you aren’t sure what to do- after you have discussed the situation, scenario with your mentor- CALL HOME!
Get a Village
Set up a PLN (professional learning network) based on your goals.
The best year I ever had was the year I started to reach out on Twitter, collaborate with teachers vertically and became apart of the ELA leadership team. I was able to professionally develop, troubleshoot, and get validation on my instructional pedagogy almost on a daily basis.
Just like the village that keeps me positive and sane as a mother, I need a village that keeps me balanced, motivated as a teacher- Everyone needs a village.
Do not isolate yourself. Find your marigold- your mentor and share ideas, share issues, and share the wonderful things that are happening in your classroom.
Every year my hope is to have the best year…YET, but the year I did each of these things I remember getting the results, staying focused on the important and, most of all, staying motivated and present. I hope my students can look back on their 5th grade year with me and remember it as I do.