3 Classroom Tips For Starting School Year Well
By K. Matson, 1st Grade Teacher in FL.
Teachers, want to set up your classroom efficiently and start off your school year well for students? Here are my top 3 tips for classroom success that every teacher should know. From furniture set up to communicating expectations- here's what I've learned works best as you begin a new year.
It’s hard to believe that the summer has gone and a new school year is quickly approaching! As a first grade teacher, I am sad to see my break coming to an end, but I’m also so excited for the opportunity to start fresh with a new year, new students, and new ideas. Here are my back-to-school tips for starting the school year off well.
Over the years, I’ve learned it is so critically important to start the year off on the right foot, so I am sharing three tried and true tips I always consider before the children arrive to help make it a great year.
Tip #1 - Plan Your Classroom Setup for Functionality and Efficiency
Classroom setup includes a variety of areas. Desk arrangement, wall/bulletin board displays, whole group seating, teacher desk placement, reading nooks, and so much more! Here are just a few things to consider when setting up your room:
To begin, let’s talk about student desk placement. For some reason, this is always a challenge for me! I tend to arrange and rearrange over and over again . . . even after the children arrive! You will want to find a formation that works for you and your teaching style and allows for easy access to all your students.
Consider whether you plan to do a lot of cooperative learning (thereby grouping desks together) or prefer having students spaced apart for more independent work.
Additionally, it is sometimes difficult for kids to pay attention and learn when they are not forward facing. Keeping as many student desks facing front as possible is ideal.
While physical arrangement does not have to be permanent (nor should it be!), putting some thought into a functional arrangement from the get go is beneficial for both you and your kids!
Beyond desk arrangement, it is important to be purposeful as to what is on display at the front of the room. Students will spend most of the day facing the front (hopefully!) and you do not want them to be distracted by items or information that may keep them from learning. Having rules, objectives, and learning tools (ie. number line, vocabulary/spelling words, etc.) visually accessible without too much clutter will increase student learning and engagement.
-Whole group meeting area
Finally, consider having an area for whole group meetings/learning. In primary classrooms, this may look like a carpet or classroom rug with individual sections for each child. You could also use individual carpet squares which can help spread kids out.
In upper grades, you may want to consider pulling chairs into a tight circle or if social distancing is needed, use stools or our serf tables. However you set it up, this area can help build community and provides a method for everyone to see and be seen. We love the Spectator Seat and the Serf Desk for older kids during group time or learning outdoors.
Tip #2 - Set Clear Expectations
Imagine beginning a new job, receiving only one day of training, and then being expected to perform successfully for the remainder of your employment. I imagine it would be both daunting and overwhelming to be given so much information at once and then no opportunity to practice it without the fear of failure! Our students are in a similar situation . . .we inundate them with new information, procedures, and expectations on the first day of school and they are expected to come back on day 2 and remember it all!
To support your students, spending time practicing even the simplest of procedures will benefit both the kids and the flow of your classroom in the long run. For example, my first graders have an extensive set of procedures I expect them to follow when they enter the classroom each day.
They begin by greeting me at the door, squirt their hands with Purell, move their attendance place card to the appropriate location, put away their lunchbox on the shelf, hang their backpack on their hook, turn their homework into the basket, place their weekly communication sheet on their own desk to be checked, and begin their bellwork. Whew! This is a lot to remember for anyone, let alone a six-year-old!
If there is any hope of my kids following these procedures, I MUST model for them again and again ... and again. As silly as it sounds, after talking my students through these procedures the first day, I literally have them line up in the hallway outside my classroom door and reenter with their backpacks on their back as though it were first thing in the morning! They find this pretty amusing, but it certainly makes an impact and helps them to remember for day 2!
Additionally, asking your students to model behaviors and expectations (instead of you!) can be a very powerful tool. Seeing a classmate demonstrate and be praised for their actions can go a long way! My students especially love it when I ask them to demonstrate a procedure the wrong way! Getting to perform a task in a manner in which they know is silly and inappropriate without the risk of getting in trouble . . . that’s the best! And it certainly helps their classmates remember what is and what is not permissible and safe.
Finally, be sure to take the time to review expectations each day for the first week or two until your students can perform them flawlessly. While it is certainly tedious at the beginning, you are setting yourself up for a much higher rate of success for the remainder of the year.
Tip #3 - Get to Know Your Students
This seems like an obvious one, but often times the beginning of the school year can become so hectic that we forget to take the opportunity to really get to know our students and to allow them to get to know us!
Building rapport can happen in a variety of ways and you will have to decide what works best for you and your teaching style.
One very simple and non threatening method of introducing each student (without the fear of having to stand in front of their peers) is to ask the parents to send in a fun fact before the first day of school.
This is a great tool for three reasons:
1. It assures you that the parents are receiving your email.
2. The kids love hearing about their classmates (and themselves!).
3. You begin to learn about your students as individuals.
I usually compile all of these facts on one sheet and will read 3 or 4 at a time at various points throughout the first week. For example, a fun fact might be read as follows: “This person just got a new puppy this summer and they love playing ball in the backyard together!” The kids then raise their hands and have to use their classmate’s name when guessing. “Is it Sarah? I think it is Michael!” When the person is revealed I typically follow up with one or two other simple questions if they choose to share more. “What is your puppy’s name? Do you like to do other things together?” So simple, so fun, and I learn so much about them! Don’t forget to include a fun fact about yourself in the mix!
One other strategy that really helps my class to bond together as a first grade family is starting and ending our day with a ‘family circle.’ In the morning, this is a time where we sit on the floor in a big circle, greet one another, share a positive message, discuss the upcoming day, and sometimes even sing a song or tell a joke. At the end of the afternoon, we meet in our circle again and share our favorite part of the day. The procedure is up to you, but just as it was mentioned above, it is important to take the time to practice the procedure and review your expectations in order for it to be successful.
Of course there are many other strategies that are a part of making your classroom great, but so much depends on you, your students, and your teaching style. However you choose to begin your year, don’t be afraid to make changes. Throughout the year, your desks may move formation and your procedures and expectations may need to be altered, but the ability to see the need and make alterations are markers of a great teacher!
Have a wonderful school year!
Kindermark Kids, A Brentpoint Company
Helping to create environments for children to learn, grow and play in.
- Melissa Kistner