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Back to School Success

Your fantasies about the first week of school are probably a lot like mine: Possessing the wisdom of Mr. Feeney, you and your Pinterest-perfect classroom are fully prepared. Angelic students hang on your every word, while their parents shower you with thanks, and your administration fills your closet with Inkjoy pens and Cheez-its.

Okay, maybe the Cheez-its are just in MY fantasy.

Here’s another confession. When I first started teaching, I was always pretty miserable during the first week of school, and not just because I didn’t have cheese crackers.

My misery had everything to do with that gnawing feeling of overwhelm. It took a few years for me to learn what I could do to prevent the anxiety and instead feel empowered and inspired.

I’m going to share links and tips for handling the first week of school like a pro. Tips that took me years to figure out, like classroom management solutions, ideas on building student relationships, planning your curriculum, and more.

Be sure to click the link to my FAVORITE way to start the school year off with a bang!

Tip #1: Teacher/Student Success Contracts

Words do not express how effective it is to  recipe for success. Every year, one of the first tasks I do is to assign kids with helping to create a contract for ME.  I have some free handouts that will help you teach one of my favorite lessons. You can find them HERE, and be sure to check out this blogpost, which explains everything.

The reason that the teacher/student success contracts work is that the kids learn right away that I am invested in their learning. They see that this is not a matter of me wanting to “punish” kids with bad grades if they don’t do well or follow rules. Instead, kids understand that I sincerely want to do my best in this learning partnership.

The teacher contract is also the BEST way of getting the parents on my side from the first week! I’ve even gotten emails thanking me for showing such respect for their children during the first week.

Now let’s face it. Teachers DO respect children. But it’s not always obvious to the kids so early in the game. And that’s what the parents are responding to.

Interestingly, I haven’t once gotten a rude or silly request from kids! Initially, I was certain that some kids would make ridiculous requests, such as “We need you to bring donuts every Monday.” That has never happened. Check out the blogpost, Simple Back to School Tips for Teachers.

Get your Teacher/Student Success handouts here.

Tip #2: Build Positive Relationships with Students

There are so many little things we can easily do every day to strengthen our teacher/student relationships. Read the blogpost, Building Positive Classroom Relationships with Middle School Students for specific details. It’s generated more emails from thankful teachers than any other post I’ve written, which makes me SO happy!

In a nutshell, during the first week of school, I always have students create a couple of contracts. One is for themselves, and the other one is for me. I know it sounds strange, but it shows students that I’m seriously on their side, and it demonstrates to parents that I have their child’s best interest at heart. I go into more detail about it in this blogpost.

#3: Planning Strategies

Here’s my best tried and true planning tip, born of sweat, blood, and broken dreams…Plan, but by all means, stay flexible.

Things happen. There is always a storm that knocks out power or a virus that sweeps up half your class. And there are times when you have an opportunity for a teachable moment that lasts for the entire period. Or a lesson that requires more time, practice, and attention than you had planned.

If you let those problems suck you in, you will be stressed out and miserable. So have a plan, but write it in pencil, literally and metaphorically.

My pacing chart can give you a rough idea of my bigger units. Feel free to use it to rough out your own semesters. I explained a little bit about it here.

And here are blogposts about how I use mini lessons and how I squeeze writer’s workshop into my VERY short periods.

 Tip #4: First Week of School Fun

Use that first week of school to have some fun in your classroom and out.

I love to use this Back to School Escape Room to go over study skills and introduce my students to our growth mindset mentality.

One teacher who used it said it perfectly: “My students were so motivated to collaborate so they could “escape,” and I ended up with terrific growth mindset posters for my classroom! It’s a win/win! Thank you!”

If you don’t want to try an escape room, try using sketchnotes to write about where your students’ feet took them over the summer. Here’s a blogpost that includes a free resource.

And plan some fun for YOU! Having something to look forward to takes the sting out of the On the first day we go back to school, it’s our tradition to go to dinner at a local diner. It’s a simple thing, but my kids look forward to it, and so do I!