teaching: preparing for the first week of school

September 6, 2015

As I prepared my classroom for this next school year, I realized that my process for readying my physical spaces and mental processes has improved greatly from my first year teaching. Here are five tips on setting up a classroom for the first week of school:

1. Decode your schedule and strategize ahead of time.

I always start my year by checking to see if my room assignment has changed. My school often has teachers sharing rooms for part of the day because space is so limited. I look to see how many students I will have in each room, as this will guide how many copies I make to keep in each room, and how many desks I will need in each room. I also ask myself how many sets of informational signs, turn in bins, and class supplies I will need to outfit each room.

Also, I begin to think about what my days will look like. Do I have prep early in the morning, allowing me to plan for tomorrow and check on the materials for that day? Or, do I have prep in the afternoon, allowing me time to grade assignments, and make copies for following days.

2. Set up your physical space to be fun, and functional.

Even though it is time consuming, working with the teachers I share a classroom with to claim a corner, a shelf, and part of a bulletin board is important. It has helped me to stay organized if I have a nice looking space to communicate information, collect papers, and store extra copies. Bedsheets make great covers for older bulletin boards. Large width washi tape creates great organizing boxes on chalk boards and white boards without leaving residue behind, even after months sitting on the board. I double up my signs on expectations to match with tasks they teach students about. For example, this year, my "no name" papers instructions and absent student resources are going to be placed in a single folder stapled beneath a coordinating sign.

3. Communicate class expectations clearly, with room for student input.

I use my school's guidelines for behavior as the skeleton for my class expectations. I like to have these posted in my classroom on the very first day. I center my expectations under a few categories, that way if a student is acting inappropriately, I can remind them of a general category that is easy to remember. Talking about what it means to be prepared, be respectful, be responsible, and be safe is where the students are able to clarify what that looks like and what it means.

I also think through my warning system before the school year starts. The more I have thought about this, the better I can communicate it to students. I plan to use a non-verbal reminder first, then a verbal reminder referring to the rule. After that, I will conference with the student in the hallway. I find that saying these processes out loud allows students to trust my process and helps behavior management run smoothly. I want to continue to improve my communication and consistency with students each year.

I also think through my late work policies, absent work policies, and how to hand in physical papers and electronic work. Picturing my classroom and all the possibilities that may pop up in a week helps me to be as organized as possible before school starts.

4. Create a class website that can be your central command.

I like to post my class materials and expectations to a third party website. Often, I find that school systems for websites have to get updated, and content can disappear. I especially like posting policies, calendars, daily summaries, and resources on my edublog. The time I use to post items online pays off in the end, because students and parents know where to look for make up work, and it reduces the amount of rummaging I do for copies late in the semester.

5. Think through student work flow before you start receiving assignments.

Schoology is my best friend. I post all my assignments and quizzes there, which gives students a streamlined way to complete assignments, and gives me a streamlined way to provide feedback, and grade. If you have the opportunity to go largely paperless and use Schoology, I really encourage you to do so. 

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