Setting Procedures For A Successful Year

It's coming, your first week of school with your new class.  What should you do?  Set your rules, and set your procedures.  Don't begin teaching a unit, don't delve into the common core just yet.  Instead, take the time to set the tone and build the community you want to continue throughout the school year.

1.  All activities and lessons for the first week of school should be centered around learning the rules, learning the routines, and building community.  Everyone is nervous the first few days of school, even the teacher.  Taking the time to get to know one another is very important.  Students need activities to help them learn your name, and the names of all of their classmates. Students need to know when they can and cannot be out of their seats.  How to turn in their completed assignments, and the proper door to exit through in order to catch their school bus.  All of these procedures must be taught - by you. 

One activity we do during the first week of school is practicing.  We practice lining up quietly, we practice pushing our chairs in when we stand up from our seats.  As adults it's so easy to forget that we had to be taught these simple things.  Even if you teach older students, they will still need to practice procedures which they did not need over the summer - like walking quietly in the hallway.  The first week of school sets the tone for the rest of the school year.  It's easy to overlook the fact that you need to teach your students how you expect them to line up, however, overlooking even the littlest things can lead to confusion later.  

2.  Start the year with as much structure as possible.  You can always let go of some structure later in the school year.  Trying to add more structure later, however, is not easy.  Have as many procedures in place as possible.  Students want to know how things will work in your room, and introducing procedures to them will ease their nerves.  Let your students know when and how technology will be used in your room.  Show students where they should store their lunch boxes.  Teach your students how you want them to enter the classroom each morning, and what they should do once they come in.  One tip for figuring out what you'll need a procedure for is to mentally go through all of the activities your students will have during the day.  Then make sure you have a routine in mind for any activity that involves students being out of their seat.

3.  Over plan for the first week of school.  I do not want a single minute that first week of school where I do not have an activity for my students to do.  To make sure I don't forget important things, I read over my plans each night before I go to bed.  I also keep a handy copy of my plans on my desk, just in case I need a last minute activity.  I know it sounds like a bit much, but believe me it is better to be over prepared than under.  

What do the plans consist of?  Well, I make sure that I have a getting to know you activity each day for my students.  We also go over all of the rules and consequences at least once, but sometimes twice each day during the first week back at school.  We learn and practice our routine for morning meeting.  Each day I select a read aloud that focuses on back to school jitters, or back to school lessons my students need to learn.  I adore Kevin Henkes, and usually begin the year with Chrysanthemum, Wemberly Worried, and Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. Any books that focus on proper school behavior, and making friends, will work. Towards the end of the first week, or beginning of the second, we usually begin our first novel of the year.  My class continues our theme of making friends by reading Charlotte's Web.  I created this free Charlotte's Web lesson to go with the novel.

4.  Introduce your students to your Language Arts routine.  Whether you're using a reading curriculum or teaching through balanced literacy, your language arts time will have a set routine.  Use the first days of school to teach students how your classroom library will work, and help students find their own just right books.  Teach students the behaviors you want to see during independent reading and writing time before your begin these periods in your classroom.  Then practice (I usually only allow students to practice independent reading time for about 10 minutes the first couple of days) and talk about how the reading or writing time went.  If things did not go the way you'd like discuss ways to improve upon it.  Once I'm ready to begin my language arts curriculum my students and I complete my Family Tree Lesson because students know a lot about their families, and it's a great way to begin our writing for the year.

5.  Take your time.  The first days of a new school year are magical.  You have everyone's full attention - your students, and their families.  Take your time, and make sure you cover all of the important details.  Write a letter to your families that includes your homework schedule, ways they can contact you, fees, and volunteer opportunities (the first week of school you will have more families reading your communication than you may have for the rest of the school year, so make it count).  I do not begin teaching curriculum in any subject until the routines for that subject have been taught.  Do not try to teach a science lesson until your students understand how science tools are to be passed out, used, and collected at the end of the lesson.  Community building activities are great the first week of school  (like graphing the number of letters in our first names on the board).  Whatever your activities are, make sure you have a few high success ones that all students can do.  You want everyone to start the year feeling good about all subjects.

I hope you find these tips useful.  If you have any first week of school tips, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

How to Effectively Communicate with Your Students' Parents

Good parent communication is a must for a successful school year.  There are so many ways to communicate today, which ones are the best to use for parent communication?  I recommend using different mediums for different types of conversations.

  •  Have a routine for mass communication - I like having a weekly overview that goes home with all students.  I write it on Friday, post it on my classroom blog and then send it home in student's folders each Monday.  It's important to have a consistent way of communicating with all of your families.  Parents, just like students, need to know what to expect.  I send home a paper copy in addition to posting it on my classroom blog.  I know it's not very green, but all families are not going to remember to go to my blog each week. 

  • The great thing about maintaining a classroom blog is you can also add pages for instructions for classroom projects, rubrics, even book order deadlines.  A lot of questions can be avoided with a central place for parents to go.  Even on Sunday night, Jimmy's parents can access the rubric for the project due tomorrow morning.

  • Use email for casual messages only - If I need to schedule volunteer hours, remind a parent about a missing form, or something minor - email is definitely the way to go.  It's quick and efficient, and convenient for both parents and myself.  If parents try to discuss something serious over email, I reply that I will be calling them to discuss the matter.  Email messages can easily be misinterpreted, or worse forwarded to others out of context.  Do yourself a favor - never discuss anything important over email.

  • Reach out to parents at the first sign of a difficulty - My philosophy is to nip things in the
    bud.  If you see that a child seems to be having trouble in reading or math, give the parent a call and set up a meeting. If a child is struggling with behavior issues, stop the parent at dismissal and set up a meeting.  It is better to reach out before there is a real problem.  By having a quick conference you can give the parent some tips or suggestions for things they can do at home.  They in turn, may have some tips for managing certain behaviors in the classroom.  One year for example, a mother explained that when her son had too much technology during the day he acted up. I was able to make a quick change to our schedule and never saw the inappropriate behavior again.  If you wait, the difficulty may only get worse.  In my experience, parents also appreciate hearing about academic problems before the first progress report goes home.  My general rule of thumb, if the child will be receiving a grade lower than a C - you need to schedule a conference.

  • Schedule face to face conferences for important conversations - When I have to discuss a serious matter with a parent I prefer to do it face to face.  When a child is having difficulty with a subject, or I'm concerned about something going on with a student - I pick up the phone and call home.  I let the parent know that I am concerned, and that I would like to have a conference.  I do NOT use email to communicate at this point.  I think it shows extra concern to take the time to go to the phone, and parents appreciate that.  A face to face meeting illustrates the importance of the matter, because both you and the parent are taking time out of your respective schedules.  This usually has a positive outcome as well.

  • There may be times when situations have already occurred, and you would prefer not to meet alone with a certain family.  That is when you ask your administrator to sit in on the conference with you.  Your administrator probably already knows about the situation, and if they don't they probably need to.  

  • I do not use my personal cell phone to call home.  I use the phone in the office.  Most parents recognize the school's number and pick up.  If I have to leave a message, and the parent calls back while I am teaching, the office will take a message.  In the past I have tried giving out my personal number.  Everyone does not go to bed at the same time, and it has resulted in my being awakened for very minor questions or to let me know that a child would not be at school the following day.  At this point in my career, I no longer give it out.

  • Field Trip Reminders - For simple field trip reminders I generally send a slip home with students in their folders the day before.  I can usually fit several reminders on one sheet of paper, so I don't have to make a lot of copies.  The Reminder app is also great for this as well, although it's rare that 100% of your parents will sign up for it.  If you do use the reminder app, remember to schedule the reminders around 5:30 or 6:00 pm. You want to be respectful of family time, and you don't want to disturb people too late in the evening.


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