The back-to-school season is the best time to set the tone for a great school year. The best learning environments are those that implement useful procedures and routines. This blog post highlights 8 of the best back-to-school routines to start your new school year. To make these routines as effective as possible, you’ll want to put them into practice from the very first day.
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 one of the most helpful back-to-school routines if you’re practicing a backward approach to curricular design. It is also helpful for preparing for standardized exams or covering curriculum guidelines and Common Core State Standards. There are a ton of great calendars and free teacher planners available on Etsy and TeachersPayTeachers.
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 digital or physical, having your own record of students’ grades enables access 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. I find it helpful to create a new column as soon as I plan an assessment. This gives me a visual reminder for any outstanding grades. 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
When it comes to back-to-school routines, remember to include parents! Don’t wait until parent night or for a phone call home over misbehavior. 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. I find a Parent Communication Form to be effective. When I send home a parent survey, I’m able to collect important parent and student information. I’m also able to introduce school policies and classroom procedures.
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. An invitation to meet in person can also go a long way.
Parents are your best asset in any age group. Once you’ve communicated with parents at the start of the new school year, you’re in the best position possible to cooperate with them.
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. 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.
If you follow this structure with lesson planning, you’ll find lesson planning to require much less effort. The structure offers just enough predictability to keep students engaged, and also reduces the 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, provide your students with an extra credit 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 modeling behavioral expectations and roleplaying proper etiquette in the classroom.
Finally, bathroom management. 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. It should include deadlines, upcoming events, grade updates, missed handouts, an inbox, an outbox, and other organizational tools for your classroom.
7. Create Collaborative Learning Communities
If one of your back-to-school routines includes creating a seating plan, you might enjoy this alternative. I opt for Collaborative Learning Communities, or “CLCs,” instead of seating plans because students respond positively to them.
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. I’ll 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 notice that an English Language Learner requires a partner. If a particular group includes too many members within a friend circle, I may also restructure it. This is 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 find all of the suggestions in this blog post to be more effective. Mondays Made Easy offers an EDITABLE Back-to-School STUDENT SURVEY for ANY Subject. This form is a great tool 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.
I hope these back-to-school routines help you to start your new school year on the right foot! These procedures and routines have been a successful part of my high school classroom. If you’re interested in exploring more on this topic, be sure to read my blog post on Classroom Management Strategies that my Students Love.
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[…] I hope this list of icebreaker activities helps you foster a supportive and inclusive classroom culture this year. For more ideas for the 2021-2022 back-to-school season, check out my blog post on 8 Strategies for Starting a New School Year. […]