It’s official. School has begun, and another school year is ahead of you. Let’s get real -- this is an exciting time of year for both you and your students. Many students return to school actually interested in doing homework (at first) and are ready to learn. You’re amped to deliver that learning and engage your students’ thirst for knowledge.
It’s an exciting time of year, no doubt, but realistically it’s also a stressful time of year. No one ever said that teaching could be stress-free; in fact, it’s one of the reasons why we teach -- learning isn’t easy, and one of the great joys of being an educator is that you get to be a lifelong learner.
Still, the stress of teaching and learning about your students can be tough, especially if we don’t take the time to develop strategies for kicking the school year off on the right foot. So, how can you kick off the greatest school year ever? Let’s get to it.
Set The Textbooks Aside
Take Time to Invest in Knowing Your Learners
Knowing your learner is the foundational platform to everything in school; it’s the catalyst to instructional practice and the necessary movement behind bringing creativity and technology to your classroom. Maintaining a deep understanding of your students is one of the easiest ways to ensure that everything else in your learning environment happens smoothly.
Instead of jumping straight into learning with textbooks, homework and in-class assignments, take some time to get to know your students at the beginning of the school year. This will make it easier for you to manage the way each individual student learns in your classroom and provide instruction geared to the inevitable uniqueness inherent therein.
The following activities are a great place to start with knowing your learning; however, get creative and try some activities that may fit the needs of your particular classroom more appropriately.
1. Build a safe environment with team-building activities
Providing a safe environment -- where students feel invited to engage in the learning and share their opinions -- is imperative to students’ confidence in their abilities and the way they interact with their peers.
Activities that cultivate this environment can be as simple as prompting your students to get to know each other’s interests, hobbies, passions and aspirations on the first day of class or as comprehensive as developing a weekly or daily classroom meeting that focuses on creating deep relationships between you and your students.
2. Develop deep relationships with exercises that challenge students to trust you and each other
These types of exercises build off of the team-building activities above, and challenge your students to trust each other in situations where they usually may not.
Obviously, there are simple examples of these practices like trust falls, but you can also go deeper with trust exercises if you leverage the daily or weekly classroom meetings mentioned above.
It takes time to cultivate relationships that are built on trust. Using your classroom as a safe environment where this sort of exploration is possible happens to be a proven strategy. For example, as your students grow more comfortable with each other, and you, you can start to implement deeper dives into trust exercises like eye-contact activities and asking students to be vulnerable with one another -- as long as they are comfortable and ready for such activities.
3. Have your students create “about me” posters and share who they are with others
This is another simple strategy that’s proven to work. Most individuals in the world -- both students and adults -- want to share who they are with others, even if it makes some a little more nervous than others. You can encourage this sort of sharing by tasking your students to create “about me” posters at the beginning of the year that will be displayed on the walls of your classroom throughout the year.
These posters generally consist of basic information like favorite colors, hobbies, likes and dislikes, favorite foods, etc… but you can also go deeper by asking your students to include how they learn best, and what they like to learn about the most.
Prime Students’ Summer Brain for Learning Again
Move Slowly Into School Routine with Active, Fun and Engaging Learning
Your students generally don’t do much learning for school during the summer, no matter how many summer reading lists you hand out before school ends. They spend a lot of their time playing video games, adventuring outside, playing sports, contemplating who they are, chatting on social media and hanging out with their friends depending on how old they are, and you can bet that learning for school is not necessarily the highest item on their priority list.
As such, it can be hard to get back into the routine of another school year, and that applies to both educators and students. Luckily, that’s something that can be leveraged as a strategy for easing back into learning and also creating a fun and engaging classroom environment. Let’s look at some ways to use that summer mindset to your advantage.
1. Use game-based learning to create an engaging classroom environment
You can check out our blog on ten free resources for teachers for some more information on game-based learning, and specifically Kahoot!; essentially, using gamification in your learning environment is a potentially foolproof strategy for learning and engagement.
You just need to be cognizant of possible distractions and also supplement game-based learning with other more traditional approaches. Nonetheless, board games, digital platforms for game-based learning and card games provide great opportunities for easing the summer brain into structured learning.
2. Ask your students to celebrate what they did/learned over the summer
Learning doesn’t only have to be confined to school, and it shouldn’t be. Asking your students to talk about the life lessons they learned over the summer -- even if you don’t phrase the “lessons” they learned as such -- is a good way to get them thinking about how their learning in school translates to their life.
You can connect the dots between lessons they learned last year and how they used it during summer, or just encourage free conversation about their summers.
3. Give your students the opportunity to create a lesson plan for one day
Ask your students to consider what a perfect learning day would look like for them. Then consider adopting a variation of this lesson plan, or using the authentic one created by a particular student.
You can implement this strategy anonymously to avoid having to use each suggested lesson plan (not all students will take this seriously, such is life). You could even try allowing a certain student to run the class for the day where their lesson plan was selected, empowering them to engage with their learning in a whole new way.
The possibilities are pretty endless with this strategy, and you can definitely get creative with the way you choose to implement it.
Give High Fives or Knuckles Every Day (Then Use Sanitizer)
Maintaining A Positive Attitude with Your Students Is Pivotal
We’re not kidding! Using your positivity and energy throughout the year to make students know that you’re invested in their learning, and in their lives, is an important and easy part of being a teacher.
Give your students high fives or knuckles every day in the hallways, as they walk into your classroom or while you’re outside with them and you’ll definitely start to get props from the kids.
This can even work in high schools, when students are a little more leery of fraternizing with adults -- it just has to be genuine. However, it’s probably more suitable to a K-8 environment, to be honest.
Be sure to use that hand sanitizer afterward though because a lot of students can avoid kleenex and elbow sneezes, opting for the nose-slime-hand-wipe and achoo-into-the-palm instead.
Positivity and energy go a long way with students, and will even help you stay afloat as the year progresses and teaching while managing your stress level becomes more difficult.
That’s all we wrote folks. Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to keep checking back in for future blogs. We hope you have a great start to your school year, and set your feet right for the best school year ever!
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