The beginning of school is such an exciting and busy time. This post has my top 10 ideas for making back to school a breeze. I have learned much from my 28 years of teaching elementary school and would like to share some practical information and ideas. Saving time and effort helps teachers the most. The start of school can be so overwhelming, which can make it difficult to be fresh when meeting the new families. Here are some ideas to help with beginning the school year feeling prepared and with some energy. EdTech Software provided me with compensation in exchange for this sponsored blog post. However, all the opinions expressed here are my own.
back-to-school-skip-counting-puzzles-1s-5s-10s (free and opens right here)
1. EdTech Software: Have you ever wanted to change a textbook? EdTech Software allows for changes to eBooks to help reach different student learning styles. Have you ever heard of a book that links and videos that could be added to make it engaging for learners? This software allows teachers to customize eBooks to enhance the learning experience. Some learners need visuals, activities, videos, or even music to thoroughly learn or stay engaged with textbooks. The EdTech Shelfit program allows teachers to create lesson plans and quizzes within eBooks. Yes, eBooks can be edited with the teacher’s links. Best of all this works on any electronic device with Wi-Fi and can incorporate Google Drive. Teachers can oversee the students working, and students can work online in groups. The benefits of this program include the following:
♥ For students without Wi-Fi at home, the books may be downloaded at school for reading at home. Then learning enhancements can be accessed at school for a flipped classroom.
♥Quizzes are graded electronically and students can have immediate feedback.
♥For teachers, the scores and grades may be exported to a grade book. This program saves lots of teacher time and allows the teacher time to plan the very best lessons.
♥A great feature is that students can’t ever say they didn’t get the handout or know where to look for the resources.
♥Students are not surfing, but accessing safe links selected by the teacher.
♥Shelfit is an app accessible by any device anywhere with Wi-Fi.
♥The program may be accessed in the computer lab if the school is not yet paperless.
♥It works with Google Drive so that it can be part of a 1:1 or paperless classroom.
♥Each student has an account, so for pull out classes such as gifted ed or ESL, students can work on appropriate eBooks and lessons back in the classroom.
For example: At the beginning of a unit, usually I gather lists of the videos, books, handouts, and supplies required for teaching. The tables at team planning meetings are covered with binders and folders of possible materials and tests to include. Have you ever wanted to have all your links, videos, and quizzes in one digital location? With Shelfit, teachers are able to have all their resources accessible in one spot. Also, a teacher can insert a YouTube video in the middle of the text or quiz, so when students are reading, they can watch it and understand the concept better. This provides a definite change from the usual textbook experience. The possibilities include adding notes and call-outs to draw attention to important facts and information for a test or quiz. Music links can be added, which would be especially appealing to many learners. I have wanted to teach books in a different way before, but that required creating an entirely new lesson, and starting from scratch. I have written my own curriculum to be able to design lessons that appeal to my students, but that isn’t necessary anymore. Here so much of the work is done, and EdTech makes it possible to adapt eBooks to your students and your teaching methods.
♥A nice feature is that parents, teachers, and students can get tech help right from Shelfit. Helping parents and students with technical issues is way above and beyond a teacher’s job description (in my opinion). How nice that teachers don’t have to be tech help with EdTech Software. Whew, relief! And if students change classes, their eBooks and Shelfit can be accessed from the same class within a school. See for yourself at this link, and you will see what I mean. This link is to the landing page with the “Try It Now” button. Click the link to create a demo account and then try creating an overlay on one of the public domain books already placed on the bookshelf.
Be sure to read to the end of this post for a free back to school printable.
2. Room organization and set up: “It’s all in the set up,” we say every year as we work before our contract begins. Why else would we be giving up summer vacation to voluntarily work at school? The best set up is to have a numbering system for your class, providing each child with a number. Number the cubbies or coat closet hooks, desks, a folder for each child, rulers, calculators, the grade book, and even the desks. All of this could be done with painter’s tape to help get along with the custodians. I once “inherited” a classroom where the teacher had used duct tape… what a mess! At least it wasn’t my fault. Once set up, the system is there for future use, especially folders and math manipulatives are then numbered for future years. This doesn’t mean you can’t add names to cubbies and desks which would certainly be best for kindergarten and primary classes. The number is there for quick reference for you and the checklists. Also when needed, the children can line up by number for events such as fire drills or stranger danger lock downs, when you have to account for every child quickly. The grade book won’t be in alphabetical order anyway as children move in and out of your class. Sad, yes, and something we have to deal with. So if child #3 moves away, either a new child can be given that number or instead, a new number added at the end. Numbers are easier than words to help deal with this situation. Also, end of the year inventory is easier when items can be checked on a list. Often schools have student ID numbers, but those are private and not visibly or publicly shared.
3. Be aware of working conditions before the first day of school: Working to ready a room, before the contract, might take days or sometimes weeks, if you are new to a building or changing grade levels. It can be frustrating to try to work when custodians might still be waxing the floors. However, we have to meet the parents in our classrooms and are not allowed much time to prepare. Most teachers want the room to be beautifully decorated and welcoming, but the preparation time is limited. Before school starts, often the air conditioning has not been turned on, the hall lights are off, the office is locked and closed, and/or everyone is using the copy machine to get a head start on the school year. Under these conditions, it is best to work shorter days. It can be frustrating to work when it is hot and all services such as the library are not open. I found it was better work shorter times for more days than to try to work just a few long days. I also tried to go in when everyone else wasn’t using the copy machine, to get the first week’s work ready. Do not pressure yourself. If possible, get the room ready, prepare materials, and then take that last week before school off. Carve out some days to refresh and rest close to the beginning of the school year, so you can begin the school year rested. The children and families will be excited and smiling and so will you!
4. Bulletin boards: I have two suggestions for backing bulletin boards which are paper or very thin fabric backing. Save yourself the hassle of monthly bulletin board changes by putting up paper or fabric that won’t fade in the first place. Schools often have paper rolls that get pushed from hall to hall so teachers can work in their classrooms before school begins. This paper may fade and need to be replaced. It isn’t worth your time or energy to be redecorating bulletin boards. I’ve tried fabric and that can be difficult to pin through, so push pins are needed which the school might not provide. Spending a little money on bulletin boards will pay off well over the course of a school year. Then you can spend your time on more important things.
For displaying children’s art, select a color scheme for the year that is attractive, pleasing, and not overly stimulating. Back the bulletin boards with the color that will be good for most of the year, such as a nice blue. Blue can be the background for fall trees and leaves, winter snowflakes, spring kite art projects, and last through June with an end of the year camping theme. Add green grass, brown dirt, or white snow to the bottom of the bulletin boards as the months pass. Having bare trees on the board will allow for changes with the seasons (fall art projects, spring blossoms, snowflakes in winter). Make your life simple. Having space to display student art is appreciated by the families. For the teaching boards, one idea is to use anchor bulletin boards that just stay up all or much of the year, such as the job chart, rules, and word walls.
5. Get ahead of lesson planning: Lesson planning is always a time consuming task before and during the school year. Without knowing students, it involves guess work. Gather materials for at least the first week, being ready for however short or long students might take to complete work. It is better to have too much on hand rather than run short. It will be easier to gauge how many lessons, activities, and work will be accomplished after the first weeks. Be armed! If you have taught the grade level before, you will have a rough idea of what is going to happen. It is always good to have a team meeting to discuss the important first six weeks of school and review the procedures taught during that time. We remark we have forgotten how young the class seems in the fall as compared to later in the school year, and how much help they need. We have to model, model, model the rules and procedures the first weeks. All teachers need to think through the beginning of the year to ensure a great start to student learning. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel yourself. Maybe you are in a PLN, but if not create your own support system.
6. Room decor: A pleasing and attractive room is a joy all year. When students and parents enter the classroom, they need to feel they have entered a special learning space such as the library. When they cross the threshold, do they immediately think of studying and settling down to learn? Try to make it immediately obvious the room is a serious but kind learning space. It is easy to create such a colorful room that children can be overstimulated. Keep it as uncluttered and clean as possible. There are many themes for classrooms and most are wonderful. Perhaps begin with a limited amount of posters, colors, and items so that more can be added later. Consider the room from the perspective of a child with special needs and think about what might be overwhelming for such a child. I used to allow children to have a family photograph on the desktop so they could feel supported at school. This was placed under clear contact paper so it would not be harmed by glue and other school supplies. A lovely classroom can be set up without working endless hours.
7. Technology: Is your school going paperless, or 1:1? Whether it is or not, those days are coming soon to many schools. I heard my school spent $45,000 on printing in a year, and this was year after year. Interactive student paper notebooks require dozens of glue sticks per child each year. Although technology costs money, it can still save school budget dollars in the long run. If you are lucky enough to have a set of Chromebooks or you have to sign up to use the computer lab with students, have a plan for sharing links they can access. Many schools have sign-in pages for teachers and students and these help eliminate surfing and the accidental inappropriate link. One nice feature of EdTech Software is the teacher can place links and help students stay on task. The teacher controls the online resources accessed and helps students be safe. Also, complete technology lessons do not have to be created from scratch as eBooks may be adapted to the students. Modern technology has so many benefits.
8. Buying school supplies: So many teachers are in the position of having to buy school supplies for their own classrooms with their own money. Some students will not have supplies, and sometimes you just want to have certain art projects or supplies. I taught in a school with a supply cupboard that was rarely unlocked. If I wanted string, I could cut off a yard of string under supervision. I wanted more, so of course I purchased my own. Students run out of glue, lose crayons, and pencils mysteriously disappear. Does every school have a pencil eating night gremlin? So be smart and part with a few dollars shopping the back to school sales. They are on now! Save some crayons for spring when new supplies will help perk up the learning. The school sales are of course meant for families, and teachers are sometimes stopped at the checkout lane for having too many glue sticks or folders. Yes, that is the way it is, so just plan return shopping trips and realize it can’t all happen at once. The check out people really liked my daughter’s strategy to quickly and neatly line up glue bottles in rows of five so their job is easier. She did not get arguments about buying so much glue, either. I learned from her to place items in groups of five. Do not make the person count other than to check and take up their valuable time. Make it easy for the store personnel.
9. Time management and taking care of yourself: During the school year managing time has to be a priority. Teachers have too much to do and the job can become a never ending responsibility. I think of teaching when I am at the grocery store with thoughts like, “I should show the students a coconut! They are on sale. I could show a whole and a cut apart coconut. Then, I need several so they can take the coconut milk.” Everywhere, in every store, all the time I think of what would benefit the student learning and emotional well being. Make shopping lists to help care for yourself.
Correcting papers can be quick and efficient, but I find myself stopping to think about the child and how to best help when I see there has been a struggle with a lesson. Best to correct, enter data, and try to view a larger picture and hopefully have a larger impact on the learning. Try to separate yourself from the students at least part of the week and live your own life. If you take more out of your own teaching bank than has been deposited, you wear yourself out and can’t be your best for the students with the limited time and money available. Call on volunteers, use services such as EdTech software, and do not feel you are lacking, if you depend on the support available. Take advantage of any help you can find to be the best teacher you can be.
10. Plan ahead for new students: We all create welcome kits for our students each fall. The welcome back letter, the lunchroom code cards, information about schedules and which days gym shoes are needed, library book check out routines, and much more, are prepared for each child. Place these items in zip lock bags, tag with numbers written on painter’s tape so it can be easily changed for a different student if necessary. Make several extras for new students who move in so you have the materials on hand. Making them later will take much longer. Be proactive, put these in a cupboard, and be all ready!
And now for the freebie! This printable PDF has skip counting puzzles for 1s, 5s, and 10s. It will be perfect for open house, meet the teacher events, or curriculum meetings for your students. Print, cut pieces apart, laminate, and place on trays or your center. With other activities, it will help plan a successful event.
Thank you for reading, Carolyn