8 Back-to-School Routines to Start the 2020 New School Year
June 22, 2020
Routines and procedures guaranteed to start your high school classes on the right foot. You’ll be thankful you implemented these on day one of the new school year.
“Will we be going back to school in September?”
This is the question on the minds of every student, parent, and teacher during the COVID-19 pandemic. But what is most important for teachers to understand is that whether schools will be open or not is dependent on a number of factors – all of which we have no control over.
What you do have control over are the classroom routines and procedures you’ll be implementing in your high school classroom. To make these routines as effective as possible, you’ll want to put them into practice from the very first day of the new school year.
1. Schedule your Syllabus
If you’re teaching high school, you likely have a course outline or syllabus to provide to your students. Take some time to schedule your course deadlines into a digital planner or physical calendar. This is an important step to take if you’re practicing a backward approach to curricular design, preparing for standardized exams, or striving to cover curriculum guidelines and Common Core State Standards. There are a ton of great calendars and teacher planners available for free through TeachersPayTeachers – check out The Element of Teaching’s FREE August 2020 – June 2021 Calendar Template for use with Google Slides™️.
2. Set up your Gradebook
Your school likely provides grade book software to record student information, but there are a ton of reasons to keep a separate grade book. Whether you choose a digital grade book or a physical grade sheet, having your own record of students’ grades enablesaccess to this information anywhere. It also prevents lost data – if you’ve been here before, you know this pain. (And if you don’t – please spare yourself!)
I like to simply keep track of my students’ grades using Google Sheets, and find it helpful to create a new column as soon as I plan an assessment. This gives me a visual reminder for any grading that needs to be done, along with outstanding grades for my students. It’s also handy to make a habit of including the date so that a student’s absences and missing assignments can line up. If you prefer something more advanced, you can find several free apps, like Thinkwave’s Free Online Gradebook. This easy-to-use software offers access for students and their parents, and even produces custom pdf reports.
3. Connect with Parents
Want to start your relationship with parents on the right foot? Don’t wait until parent night (or even worse: the dreaded call with “bad news”). I like to introduce myself to parents at the very beginning of the year. Find a way that feels most professional and comfortable for you: a phone call works best, or a personalized letter. If you’re tech-savvy, you can also connect with parents through a classroom blog or social media page. Whichever method you choose, be mindful of the different languages and cultures that are present in your students’ homes. For English Language Learners and refugee families, it may be helpful to send a translated letter home – or better yet, an invitation to meet in person.
Parents are often a more focal discussion point at the lower school level, but they are your best asset in any age group. Once you’ve made the effort to communicate with parents at the start of the new school year, you’ll be in the best position possible to cooperate with them to meet the needs of your students.
4. Determine a Daily Schedule
Here’s a tip to save you time with every lesson that you’ll plan next year: stick to a consistent structure for classroom routines. This efficient approach will provide you with smaller, more manageable sections of class time to plan for. Start by breaking each period down into smaller segments. How do you want to start each lesson? How are you going to deliver content? How will you consolidate learning at the end of each class? It may be helpful to examine the framework provided by your administration or school board – many institutions may already have researched-based recommendations to help you organize your lessons. Some great frameworks for the ELA classroom include The Daily Five or the Three-Part Lesson Plan.
The structure of most of my lessons begins with some type of visual tool to outline the day’s agenda – this can be a digital slide, or simply an outline written on the board. I’ll then start with what is pedagogically known as a “Minds On” activity: examples can be a question, an inquiry-based activity, or a short quiz on a previous lesson or homework assignment. This is a great way to introduce the lesson’s learning goal (which is equally important for both you and your students to know). I also find it productive to help my students mentally prepare for the day’s lesson using a mindful meditation or a kinetic brain primer. Finally, I always consolidate with an exit ticket before the conclusion of the period.
When I follow this structure with lesson planning, I am effortlessly able to create a dynamic and engaging lesson. The structure offers just enough predictability to keep my students engaged, and also cuts down on the length of time for which I need to plan fresh content.
5. Outline your Classroom Expectations
Outlining your expectations is not just about stating the rules, but more so how you deliver them. Your students will inevitably take long restroom breaks, turn assignments in late, and ask for extra credit before the end of the term – be one step ahead of them with formative activities and tangible tools. For example, if you want to limit the number of last-minute assignments turned in the day before your grades are due, present your students with a form that must be approved before a given date. And if you want your students to respectfully listen during the delivery of a lesson, be sure to do more than just say so. I love Michael Linsin’s approach to modelling behavioural expectations and roleplaying proper etiquette in the classroom. Finally, while I’d love it if I could just treat my teenagers like adults, I’ve unfortunately needed more concrete classroom management strategies in my classes – or bathroom management, if you will. There are a ton of great ideas to limit frequent, extensive restroom breaks in your classroom: some teachers prefer a more formal, data-driven approach, while others like to take this opportunity to make learning environments a little more fun. Whichever method you choose to follow, be sure to implement it on day one of the new school year.
6. Establish a “Home Base”
Whether classes next year will be in-person, or through distance learning due to Coronavirus concerns, students will still approach you with the same questions:
“What did I miss yesterday?” “When are our essays due?” “Did you grade our quiz yet?”
These questions can leave teachers feeling irritated at the start of a lesson. A gentle reminder: students are simply taking initiative, and probably wish they knew the answers to these questions too. For this reason, it’s a great idea to dedicate a “home base” in your classroom where your students can find this information, or where you can direct them when they approach you after a missed class. This space can be physical or online, and can include deadlines, upcoming events, grade updates, missed handouts, an inbox, an outbox, and other organizational tools for your classroom.
7. Create Collaborative Learning Communities
I’ve never implemented seating plans, and I’ll share with you why: high school students resent them, and substitute teachers don’t know about them. What I do utilize in my classroom are Collaborative Learning Communities, or “CLCs”. This grouping strategy can be implemented whenever my lessons include stations, rotations, discussion questions, or peer-based learning. My approach involves letting students sit where they want on the first day, and making note of their natural predispositions. I’ll then use my Back-To-School Student Personality Inventory to gather information about my students’ profiles, and use these to create balanced groups based on Open Psychometrics’ Big Five Personality Test. I will then revisit these groups, and make changes if I recognize that an English Language Learner requires a native language partner. If a particular group includes too many members within a friend circle, I may also restructure it in order to include diverse perspectives and ample learning opportunities. This approach always establishes effective and harmonious groups for students, which can be used when a collaborative learning approach is favorable, or when the energy in the classroom needs a change. Added bonus: your students will be accountable for their seating if you use CLCs as a part of a lesson plan for a substitute teacher.
8. Get to know Your Students
I’ve saved the best – and most important – for last. Get to know your students, and the rest will fall into place. If you do this early on, you’ll be able to more effectively implement the other suggestions I’ve shared with you today. Mondays Made Easy offers an EDITABLE Back-to-School STUDENT SURVEY for ANY Subject, which is a great starting point to promote equity, growth mindset and community in your classroom. But as experience will teach you, getting to know your students is a year-long process, and a neverending joy.
Click here to download Mondays Made Easy’s Back to School Student Survey.
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