Simple but Powerful Ways to Ensure an Awesome School Year

If the words “first day of school” don’t exactly make you want to pop the bubbly, try out these simple but powerful back to school tips. They’re quick and easy, yet they will help you establish positive relationships and expectations simultaneously.

Simple tricks for the first week of school.

The back to school season doesn’t just revolve around backpack and notebook commercials. It’s also the start of the “teacher nightmares” that many of us experience. I typically dream that I’ve lost my teaching mojo, that I lose “control” of my classes, and that I’ll dislike the kids or they’ll dislike me.

Do you have those subconscious concerns too? I bet you do, and here’s the kicker: our students face similar fears. Sounds like fun, right? We’re going back to school and everybody is scared witless. Now, I’m not going to tell you the anxiety is ridiculous. Unfortunately, some of those disturbing thoughts are real possibilities.

While that might make you want to crawl back into bed, I AM going to tell you three simple, yet powerful back to school tips you can do to ensure you’ll get off to an awesome start this school season.

3 Simple Back to School Tips

This first suggestion might sound unusual. However, I will never ever begin another school year without completing this simple back to school activity. I’ll explain exactly what to do and why it works. I’ll even give you a free handout to help you.

1- Put the Kids in Charge of YOU by Creating a Teacher Success Contract

One of the first things I do is to ask the kids to define my role in the classroom. Once we establish that I am there to facilitate learning, I put the kids in pairs or small groups armed with a stack of post-it notes or the handout below.

I ask the kids to write and respond to this prompt:

  • Determine 5 ways the teacher(s) in this class can optimize learning and help you do your personal best?

Then I ask each group to choose the three most important ideas and explain why each one is important.

Those first days we go back to school don't have to be boring! Have kids come up with their own procedures and expectations, and be sure to use this cool twist!
One at a time, we go through the suggestions. We discuss each idea’s merits and we put vague ideas aside. If more than one group has the same need or request, that item makes it into my contract.
The first time I tried this activity, I was certain some kids would make ridiculous demands, such as “We need you to bring us donuts every Monday,” or “You can help us by giving us all 100s.”

Boy, was I wrong. The kids are so earnest about tackling this responsibility that it blows me away every time. They take it seriously. To show them that I also take it seriously, I sign the bottom and make it all official.

Why the Contract Works

This simple task sets a tone for the school year and is a HUGE benefit to our teacher/student relationships. Let me tell you why.

First of all, middle school kids see themselves as getting bossed around a lot by their parents, teachers, sibling, and even each other. This is their reality, and now they are in charge.

The table is turned so they are in control of their learning, and they understand I am sincerely interested in doing everything in my power to help them succeed. Kids respect that. They are honest and direct about what they need and long for that respectful communication.
For example, one request that always seems to come up is this one: Let us do extra credit.

Here’s the interesting part: I don’t allow extra credit, but I do allow rewrites and test corrections on almost every assignment, However, these kids don’t know that yet because I just met them. So the extra credit request leads to a discussion about the value of learning the material rather than focusing on grades. It also enables me to ask, How about if I allow test corrections and rewrites?

Once students know I’m going to allow corrections, they’re thrilled!
Now I’ve succeeded in accomplishing four goals.
  1. I’ve informed them of test corrections without the boring procedures lecture.
  2. I’ve proven that they have a voice in what goes on in our class.
  3. Students begin to trust me. They see that I understand my responsibility as a teacher, and I’m not “out to get them.”
  4. I’ve also learned what my kids fear. In fact, it puts their fears on the table in such a way that the fear loses a bit of power. Here I am, says the fear. Look at me. Face me. You aren’t alone.

2- Put the Students in Charge of Creating their Own Success Chart

Those first days we go back to school don't have to be boring! Have kids come up with their own procedures and expectations, and be sure to use this cool twist!
Spending the first week of school being lectured about rules, expectations, and class procedures must be mind-numbing for kids.
After making my contract, we use the same process to create a student expectations chart. Since my contract has already been written and signed, the kids know they also have to meet their end of the bargain if this is to be a two-way relationship.
Many teachers have the kids come up with their own rules, and I’ve done it that way for years too, but kids never took it as seriously as they have since I started having them make my contract first.  I suspect that it’s because the kids understand that ours is a safe classroom where some serious learning takes place. They trust me to be invested in their learning. And they know that it’s going to take work on their part, as well.

For this one, I ask the kids to write and respond to these prompts:

  • What are three qualities of a good classmate?
  • Name five things successful students always try to do.

We follow the same procedure as above, working together to come up with a few rules and expectations.

3- Display Both Success Charts

On Back to School Night, when the parents come to learn what the class is all about, I always point to my teacher’s contract and tell parents that their children created it.

Here’s a confession. Don’t judge. Showing the contract to the parents always makes me tear up. In fact, I’m sniffling right now just thinking about it.

It is humbling to see in writing what kids really want from us as teachers. They just want what we all want, to be treated fairly and for us to believe in them.

I always point out to the parents how sweet the kids are for coming up with such heartfelt and reasonable terms. And I explain that the kids– their awesome children– didn’t take advantage of the task by making silly requests! If a contract could win a prize for being fair, this would win, hands down.
Parents love the contract too! It shows them that I respect their child. As parents, isn’t this exactly what we want of our kids’ teachers?
Relationship building is the key to success in the classroom, which I wrote about here. I always find that once I establish a solid foundation based on trust and respect, my own fears of failure fade away. I’m also sure that the fears of my students fall by the wayside.
This Back to School Escape Room provides an awesome way to get the school year off to a brilliant start! Kids will work to escape, while using a variety of skills. All I have to do is a quick set-up and then sit back while they use their problem solving skills to learn about growth mindset, study skills, and more!

Try these simple back to school tips and have a delicious start to the school year, friends. 🙂


If you are looking for a fun way to have kids come up with the rules, in addition to teaching some growth mindset and study skills concepts, take a look at this Back to School Escape Room. It’s a fun and motivating way to start the year!

Are Escape Rooms new to you? Read all about them here.