Tips for the Start of the School Year

✅ Decorate your classroom and organize supplies.

✅ Write lesson plans.

✅ Decide how to build relationships.

✅ Check your technology.

✅ Establish routines and procedures.

✅ Connect and collaborate with colleagues.

✅ Plan for parent communication.

Your list at the start of the year feels endless and impossible. And it can’t all be done the very first day. Relationships, routines, and classroom climate take time to build, all while juggling the everyday logistics of the many students on your rosters. 

What do you prioritize? Where do you start and what do you stick with all the way to May? Check out four essential tips from Opportunity Education’s Professional Learning team for starting the year on solid footing, so that you have a foundation for all you have to do once your students are in your room.


1. Build Relationships

From Jessica Haughton, Professional Learning Specialist and former Science teacher 

The first few days of school are always busy and full of change. One change that is absolutely guaranteed at any school – schedule changes! Be proactive and plan for change by starting the year building relationships. Using active learning strategies to help your students get to know you and each other is a good use of your class time while you wait for the dust to settle. 

Customize our Four Corners template as a get to know you activity. Try two corner “yes” and “no” statements like “pizza is a breakfast food” and four corner multiple choice options like “the number of selfies you took before coming to class today.” Have fun and share about yourself as you use the strategy!


2. Set Clear Expectations and Build Classroom Routines Early

From Tracey Mansfield, Professional Learning Specialist and former English teacher 

Setting expectations and building classroom routines should start on day one. This takes practice, especially when you and your students are still learning about each other. A simple way to approach this is to allow students time to learn and practice expectations in groups before collaboration is tied to learning goals or grades. Use our Make Groups Work resource with a low stakes community building activity at the start of the year. 

One activity that worked well for me at the beginning of a term was to ask students to work in groups to build a list of five bellwork or warm up activities that I would incorporate into the lesson plans over the first few weeks of the school year. My students understood they would be expected to do them, so they got creative! Try including a short list of requirements (i.e. activities must include an SEL activity, a writing task, a video prompt, a current event and a partner activity) to set students up for success. You’ll end up with a nice portfolio of student generated warm ups, and they will appreciate being part of the learning process!


3. Incorporate Active Learning Early and Often

From Shannon Carey, Assistant Director of Professional Learning and former English teacher

Yes, icebreakers are an important part of the first week of school – but you can also positively affect student motivation by actively engaging students in your content from the start, while building relationships!  Active learning doesn’t just mean getting students up and moving (although studies have shown that there is a direct connection between movement and brain function!). Active learning is learning by doing, working with others, solving problems, and making choices. 

Check out our Active Learning Menu. This resource models an active learning strategy by providing a choice “menu” of methods for you to actively engage students, one “meal” at a time. Choose an “appetizer” to try out with your students during the first week of school


4. Set the Stage for Growth 

From Rachel Jerez, Director of Professional Learning and former English teacher 

Before students ever meet you, it is likely they’ve already made a dozen pre-judgments about how they will experience your class. Maybe they already decided they are bad at math, so they are going to fail, or at least hate every minute. Or maybe they spent years trying to hide the fact that they couldn’t understand what they were reading, and they’ve decided that English class will be stressful. Or maybe they’ve decided your Geology class is going to be a breeze, so they are sure they have nothing to learn.

In order for students to learn, they have to develop a mindset that is open to growth. Helping your students identify when they have a fixed mindset and giving them the tools to reframe this thinking are the foundation for a culture of risk-taking, curiosity, and growth. 

Customize our Four Corners Growth Mindset Evaluation and our Growth Mindset Assessment and Sort to motivate and equip students with the ability to reflect on and foster a growth mindset. 

So, what are your priorities for starting off on the right foot this year? Connect with us to collaborate or learn more.  🙂

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