8 Back-to-School Tips
1. Get to know the most important person in your school, the custodian, by first name. You will discover that knowing the custodian will pay off all year long. When you need something, knowing that the custodian knows you on a friendly level is a good thing. Check in on the school nurse, too. That will keep you in tissues, and smooth out those times when too many students with sniffles get sent to visit.
2. It may seem a bit old fashioned, but it is extremely memorable. It’s probably impractical for larger departmentalized classes, where an educator has a hundred or more students, but it works great if you have 30 students or fewer on your class roster. Snail mail a welcome to class. It doesn’t have to be long, but the key is to make each unique and not identical. Students and parents will share, and a form letter won’t be as wonderful. If you can, repeat this once or twice during the school year.
3. Most schools collect parent data for office purposes by sending home a lot of forms to fill out in the first few weeks of school, but every teacher today needs to collect parent e-mail addresses and phone numbers in the first week—the sooner, the better. They can be the most important communication tools between parent and classroom for a joint effort and collaboration toward student achievement progress. The days of inviting the teacher over for a dinner may be rare, but a continuous connection from teacher to parent and parent to teacher is a must from the start, and throughout the year.
4. If you have a web page, make it up to date, clear, and inviting. Decide how often it will be updated and stick to that schedule. Even if you just use it for an assignment’s reminder, it will be valuable. If you do more, that will allow students, parents, and others a glimpse at how wonderful it is in your classroom. If you don’t have an online page, make an energetic effort to get one. Every educator should have an online place.
5. You’re never too old, or young, for Opening Week Buddies. Your students will benefit by teaming up during the first few weeks of school, and there’s no reason you as a teacher shouldn’t find an Opening Week Buddy, too. When you’re home trying to figure out the new schedule, or not sure of a plan idea, or need an idea for one, texting, e-mailing, or calling your Opening Week Buddy can save you. It’s good to have a friend who knows what you’re going through and can act as a sounding board, even if you’re a veteran educator. And, in most cases, kids keep their back-to-school buddies as friends long after time in your classroom ends. Opening Week Buddies become class and school buddies. Yours will become a friend, too, and help add to your personal learning network.
6. Check the wires! If you’ve been away on holiday, chances are things have been unplugged and moved for room cleaning. Expecting that the wires and all the computer connections are exactly the same as when you left for holiday is probably not realistic. Check everything digital that you rely on early. You can do a lot yourself, and get help for what you can’t do. You’d hate to wait for help if the problem is an unplugged connection. Avoid a digital surprise during one of your first lessons with your new students.
7. Bulletin boards have always been a part of back-to-school tradition. New and veteran educators think they have to fill every bulletin board space and every empty space on the wall when school begins. Think about this. What if you start out with a space that’s just for students, and they fill in that space, and decide how to use it from start of school and throughout the year. This sort of thing can be carried over to any online versions—student webpages—where they design and add creative content. A student bulletin board can be a physical student planning board.
8. Have students create mission statements in the first week of school that share how they see themselves and how they’d like others to see them. These can be on paper or digital. In either case, when done, save them where they can be found quickly, shared often, and modified. Taking a student’s mission statement out for sharing is a good reminder in good times, but also a great reminder when a student is having a less than stellar day. It’s a gentle reminder from the student to him or herself.