Start the School Year Right

by Kim Moldofsky

Ah, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and the scent of the colorful new markers; it’s time for a new school year.

Change is the only true constant in education. Every year brings new surprises and joys. Even veteran teachers may land in new classrooms this year. There is always new technology to learn, and, of course, new students to get to know. I asked my informal teacher advisory committee to share their best tips for starting the new school year off right and I was shocked at what they said. Really. Maybe I underestimated them. I expected things like, “Communicate your classroom rules” and “Be sure you’re organized,” but I got these gems of wisdom instead:

Relationships Matter

“Relationships matter more than anything else. Put the time in with students and colleagues to build positive relationships,” advises Krissy, innovation coordinator at Kincaid School. And while we all know that some days are more challenging than others, she recommends we take stock and “Always find a bit of good in every single day.”

Meet the Parents

Relationships with the parents of students are important, too, especially during the early years. Connecting with parents at the start of the school year is important to Betsy, an elementary school teacher, who strives to have parents, teachers and students work together as a unified team.  Betsy walks her young students out of her neighborhood school at the end of the day in an effort to meet their waiting parents. She opens lines of communication that help her learn more about her students in ways that the children may not yet be able to articulate.

Beth, a middle school teacher on hiatus, echoes Betsy’s sentiment. She notes that she always makes efforts to meet parents prior to open house even though the event typically occurs just a few weeks into the year. Both women ask parents to complete an information sheet that provides a thorough background on their child including strengths, areas for improvement, key health information and preferred methods of contact.

Do as I Do and Keep it Fresh

“Don’t be boring” cautions Leigh Anne, a high school teacher. “And don’t give an assignment you wouldn’t try yourself.” This veteran teacher stresses the importance of refreshing and refueling. One way she suggests to keep things fresh is to create and submit a grant to Fund for Teachers, an organization that provides exciting opportunities for teachers to become students, mastering new skills and broadening their perspectives.

Shake it Up

Gerri, who is also a high school teacher, is already back in the classroom. She shook things up this year by trying something different. Instead of kicking off class with her typical routine of reviewing classroom expectations and the course syllabus, her administrator challenged her not to mention those things at all. She admits the shift was indeed a challenge, and that ultimately, she did discuss classroom expectations. However, rather than focus on things like homework assignments, she told her students that her expectation was that they have fun while learning. The result? “I saw a difference immediately in the way the first few days of school went. In previous years, students were quiet and mouse-y, and it took them a while to step out of their shells. This year, they're already out of their shells, and we haven't even been in school a week! It has been so much fun!”

As you prepare to face to joys and challenges of this new school year, don’t just let changes happen to you. Take charge and try something new. Share your new school year tips on our Facebook page.