Before Day 1 of School

You know that saying that someone can talk in circles? I am the person who thinks and talks in squiggly lines, loops, and zig-zags. My thoughts are constantly pinging from one connection to another, so I need (NEED) a list to keep me on track. The worst and best topic for me to talk about is education. I try to reign in my sporadic thoughts as best as I can in public, but it does bubble it’s way out at times. With this said, you may be able to imagine how my thoughts are as we approach the new school year. They are everywhere! However, over the course of the past couple of years, I have learned that this habit both excites me and drains me of my energy. I remember before and during my first year teaching, I spent many late nights at the school or in my living room. I spent hours on completing tasks and goals I had set for myself, but I didn’t spend much time on prioritizing these goals. Often times, I’d find myself stressing over needing to complete one necessary task when I just spent two hours on a task I just “wanted” to do. This seems like an obvious point, but, when excitement strikes, it’s hard to push that urge to the side. So, this year, I sat down and prioritized my to-do list. There are a lot of aspects of teaching that can be stressful and time consuming. I’m determined to keep my stress to a minimum by managing the tasks that I do have control over. This post is all about the tasks I deem necessary to have complete before Day 1. Your list might be different. If so, please share your thoughts in the comments! I’d love to hear them! So, here it is!

  • Parent-Welcome Packet: Create an info packet for your parents and send them home with your children. If you have Open House before school starts, then have it ready by then. (It’d be much better to send this home directly with parents, if possible.) This may seem like a mundane task, but a necessary one! This gives the parents an idea of the kind of teacher you are and it sets the tone for the rest of the school year. This year, I created a personal flip book packet for my parents. I’m even considering adding a strip of magnetic tape on the back to stick on the refrigerator at home. Here is a list of things to consider in your parent-info packet:
    • Welcome page
    • Teacher contact information (I’ve even seen teachers us QR codes for this.)
    • Teacher about information
    • Parent contact information
    • Transportation for dismissal
    • Homework policy, if any.
    • Daily schedule (even in a rough template)
    • Classroom management policy
    • Parent volunteer opportunities and ways to sign-up
    • Attendance and Tardies policies
    • Field trip info, if any

And, here is my flip book! If you are interested in this one, click here to download it.

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  • Parent Phone Calls: If you are able to see a list of your students before the first day of school, contact the parents before Day 1. It shows the parents that you are invested in getting to know them, that you are welcoming and compassionate teacher, and it sets a positive tone before the school year begins. You never know what Day 1 will bring. A student may have woken up on the wrong side of bed and may need a phone call home. Try to avoid that first phone call from being a negative one. If you can call before or on Day 1 and set a positive tone, the negative phone call will be much easier to make. (Side note: Keep a communication log of all contact with parents. Include a brief note of what the conversation was about. I created a simple, free Google Spread Sheet for Parent/Teacher Communication Log. You should be able to make a copy for yourself or download it.) parent phone call
  • Transportation: Know how each student is going home. This would be a great question to ask during your first phone call home or during Open House. Some are bus riders. Some are car riders. Some go to afterschool. Some ride a van to daycare. Some alternate transportation. And some do all of the above. (I created a simple, free Google Document for Mode of Transportation. Personally, I find it easier to have each day listed, so there is no confusion when Student A is a car rider for three days and a bus rider for two. I, simply, look at the list for the current day, and there is no confusion.)Dismissal is already a very hectic time of day, and not all children truly know how they are getting home or to their after-school destination. If possible, I would contact someone at the school and learn about the dismissal policy ahead of time. Do the kids need bus passes in order to be let on the bus? Are the students released by bells? Will the car riders be released to the cafeteria, or will someone be calling for them through intercom or walkie-talkie. Each school has their own dismissal policy. The sooner you are aware of the system, the more smoothly dismissal will be, especially on Day 1.And, no matter the age of a student, if what the child says conflicts with your Mode of Transportation Document, always double check. Sometimes, students will say with absolute certainty that they are a car rider or that they ride bus #12-34. It’s better to be safe and call the parents/guardians. Otherwise, you could be speaking to very irate and worried parents when you tell them you aren’t sure where their child has gone. Also, I suggest taking all parent contact information with you during dismissal. If you need to make a quick phone call, you will have all of the phone numbers right there with you.
  • Prepare all of Week 1 activities and lessons: I would create a spreadsheet with the days of the week across the columns and subject matter down the rows. (Personally, I’m using Planbook.com, although there are many other on-line tools for lesson planning.) Fill in all of the activities and lessons you intend to teach that first week. You probably already know that the first couple (or more) weeks should be based on routines and procedures.Whatever you have in your plans, have the copies made, pull the manipulative out, and make any extra materials you may need (ie. chart paper diagrams, etc.) I do mean Week ONE, only, and not unit plans. Unit plans are very important to have done in advance, but, if you have your math Unit plan done for the next 6 weeks without any ELA plans, then, technically, you only have half of week one prepared. This will cause deep stress during the first week as you scramble to have your ELA plans done, and, meanwhile, week 2 is still on the to-do list. My recommendation is to have weekly plans completed at least one week in advance and all supporting materials prepared. Once you are ahead of your weekly plans, you can, then, plan your units in advance. If you are lucky enough to stay in the same grade level the following year, each week will become easier to teach, and the time spent on unit plans will increase and improve.
  • Label, label, label: They don’t have to be pretty, but label any and all things you will be referring to in your routines and procedures. If you have a pencil bin, label it. If you have bathroom passes, label it. If you want your students to line up at the 4th tile by the door, label it. This will keep you from having to repeat yourself endlessly (but not completely), and ease your students into new routines and procedures more easily. However, you don’t have to label EVERYTHING. Just label what you have in your plans. Eventually, I did label everything. I found it helped me and the students, but it took a very long time. That time could be better spent on your lesson plans and lesson prep. Check out these free labels! Many times, I like to create my own and make the labels fit perfectly, but, again, that’s time better spent elsewhere. (http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.net/2014/06/school-supply-labels-free-printables/) Supply Labels Image from 1plus1plus1equals1
  • Name Tags: Speaking of labeling, and depending on the age group, I highly suggest having name tags ready to go by Day 1. If you are like me, then you may be terrible at recalling names. When I’m teaching a lesson, I need to know the names of my students, otherwise, the lesson is filled with multiple hesitant moments where I need to be reminded of a child’s name. What a waste of time! And how distracting!I understand that this can be difficult if you have several dozens of kids each day, but, in my case, I only have about 20-25.Also, to save time in the future, I don’t use sticky name tags. If I do, then I would be recreating new name tags every day. Instead, I use plastic name tag inserts (http://www.amazon.com/Clear-Plastic-Horizontal-Badge-Holders/dp/B00BM3D8UI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1435783784&sr=8-1&keywords=plastic+name+tags) with those metal clips to fasten onto the collars of their shirt. One side has their first name, and the other has the name of the school, address, and phone number. If we go on a field trip, they flip it over onto the school side. We talk about stranger danger, and the concerns of having their name on display in public.Plastic Name Tags
  • Welcome Kids at the Door: On Day 1, and every day thereafter, welcome the kids at the door. This will be a goal of mine this year. I intend to have everything for the morning set up and ready, so I can be present for the kids when they walk in. Every classroom management book I have every read insists on doing this. Have an engaging activity ready for the kids to do when they arrive. Make sure that the activity is engaging and can be done independently with minimal teacher assistance. This way, you will be able to tend to the students as they enter the room and address any needs that may arise. For instance, separation anxiety or an “accident”.

    This is a great video about classroom management from Week 1, Day 1. I highly recommend Harry Wong’s “The First Days of School”.

  • Routines and Procedures: And, lastly, but most important, have a clear understanding of your procedures and routines. In the past couple of years, my idea of classroom management, routines, and procedures has changed drastically. Initially, I learned about a lot classroom management techniques that were extrinsically motivating. The students receive skittles, stickers, or an item from a treasure box. They may receive class dojo points or move their “clip” up or down. I used all of these techniques. And each one had their own benefits. Each one helped keep some behaviors at bay, but only when I actively used these tools.I’ve decided to teach intrinsic motivation and would love to go into more detail. However, that post would be very long and, honestly, I’m still figuring it out. So, instead, I’d like to leave any new teachers with a couple questions and thoughts to ponder while creating your procedures and routines for your classroom. There are certainly a lot of opinions out there, so I hope this helps spring board what it will look like your room.
    • What kind of environment do you want to foster in your classroom? I prefer the more serene and calm environment. It helps me think better and stay calm during hectic days. The calmer I am, the better behaved my students are. However, you may be more energetic than me. You might be fine with a louder, more active classroom. Try and make your classroom routines reflect the environment you want.
    • What kind of learning do you intend to encourage? Do you plan to incorporate work stations daily? Will the students be working in pairs often? Will you need to lecture at times? Take these into consideration when you are planning your first week’s lesson plans. Try to make the ice breakers and routine/procedure practice reflect the kind of activities you intend to incorporate. Try to incorporate team building and group work if you intend to do class projects. Maybe pair students up so they can get to know one another with a Q&A form. Etc.
    • What are YOU comfortable with? Some teachers love a constantly moving classroom and others like a more calm and relaxed environment. Remember, your classroom does not have to look like Ms. Smith’s classroom next door. As much as we are in the profession for our students, you don’t want to set up a routine that will drive you crazy. What works for one teacher may not work for you. For me, the sound of a pencil sharpener in the middle of a lesson bothers me. It’s loud and interruptive, to me. I easily lose my train of thought and have to take a moment to refocus. Naturally, I taught my students to not sharpen while I or another person is speaking.
    • Seating arrangements during Week 1 are temporary. Do not seal those name tags until, at least, week 2. It’s much easier to move a name tag, than an entire desk. I suggest using double sided tape to temporarily stick them down, if you need name tags at all.
    • Other things to consider:
      • Restroom break (or restroom use during class time)
      • Pencil sharpening
      • Lining up and hallway behavior
      • Participating in group conversations
      • Questions or comments during a lesson
      • How to use classroom materials
    • I recommend the book First 6 Weeks in School. They have a wonderful template to help map out these procedures in school.first 6 weeks of school

And, in contrast, this is a list of what I do no recommend stressing over.

  • Your classroom does not need to look magical. Yes, try to make it look as inviting as possible, but you don’t need a big tree in the reading nook. You don’t need special, fancy numbers/letters hanging from the ceiling identifying the different table groups. You don’t need to make cereal box filing boxes for each kid. And you don’t need to paint cheap picture frames, place  white paper inside, and glue them to the wall for a make-shift white board.
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    Notice the frames, the letters, the alphabet, the decorations: I could have achieved the same look in less time if I hadn’t done so many DIY projects.

    I did all of these things, and ended up staying up really late completing my necessary items before Day 1. It took time away from my family and time away from precious sleep. Don’t do what I did. Save those fun activities for the weekend when you are caught up (on the necessary things). Because, honestly, what teacher is ever truly caught up and checked everything off their list?!

  • Try to keep Pinterest/Internet searches at bay. Personally, I am addicted to Pinterest. Seeing all of these great ideas from other teachers make me feel like I have to do the same. I feel “behind”, and my priorities start to shift from my original to plan to those of others. I have to remember that, while that teacher may be creating fun file-folder games and work stations, s/he may have already completed the parent info packet, or the first week of school’s lesson plans. I have to reign in that excitement!
  • That one super-cool and time-consuming activity that would be neat for the 15 minutes the kids will use it. Resist the urge. I created a file box full of “how-to-draw” pictures. A whole box. I laminated the sheets, alphabetized them, and created a cover for the box. Ask me how often my kids used it. I can count the number of times on one hand. AND the pictures were, most often, not alphabetized correctly when returned to the box, creating more work for me to do. Every time I think of that box, I always wonder what in the world came over me to think I just HAD to make this box. My only answer is excitement. One day, I will find a better purpose for this other than journal drawings.

Again, this is my list of what I deem absolutely necessary to have done before Day 1. Depending on your grade level, it may look different for you. Also, if you are seasoned teacher, your priorities are probably very different from mine. This list is ultimately geared towards new teachers. This upcoming school year will be my first full year in 2nd grade, so I feel like a first year teacher all over again. I still have many other items on my to-do list, but these are my absolute musts. Now that I have prioritized them, I’m off to complete them! Let me know what you think in the comment section! Do you have anything you might add to the list?

New Teacher/Mentor Google Hangout

As the new school year begins to approach, I am getting more and more excited. I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what I deem necessary to have ready for the first of the school year and what can wait. I was TERRIBLE at this my first year. Absolutely terrible. What I thought was necessary was definitely not, so I spent a grandiose amount of time on extraneous things that had little effect on the classroom.

Many schools have New Teacher/Mentor programs, and many more schools do not. I was lucky. During my first full year of teacher, I was surrounded by wonderful teachers eager to help me with any questions I had. AND the school I worked at had a program for new teachers. I had double the support. The school year was still tough, but not nearly as bad as it could have been.

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I understand a lot of schools do not have this, so I would like to offer a place for new teachers to receive support from fellow mentor teachers on-line. The idea is to host the discussions once a month, the first session being in July. Each month, we would discuss a different topic ranging from parent communications to classroom management to balancing work and home life.

The first session will take place on the evening of July 6. The focus will be all about the first couple weeks of school. I’d like to provide a place for new teachers to voice their concern and receive encouraging feedback with useful advice. I’d also like to discuss what the mentors deem necessary to have prepare before day one and what can wait for later in the school year. If you are interested in participating in this discussion, join the google community, “Google Hangouts for Teachers“, since the discussions will be hosted through that community.

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Google Hangouts for Teachers

As many of you may know, I founded The Educator’s Book Club, an on-line group of teachers reading professional developments books together and discussing the reading selections on a weekly basis. The group has grown significantly to over 880 members in one year alone. In that year, I have met wonderful teachers from all around the world and have read some amazing books that will improve my skills as a teacher. Halfway through every book study, we nominate and vote on the books we will read during our next book study. As you can imagine, many subjects and books get nominated, but, because only two books are selected, we miss the opportunity to learn about the other selections.

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Everyone in the group nominates books for various reasons. Either they heard great things about it from coworkers or they’ve had the book for a year with the intention to read it. Maybe your school is rolling out a new curriculum or shifting the school culture. Maybe you are moving to another state or country and your new school follows a different educational approach than your past school. We all have different reasons for nominating topics and books, and I don’t want to keep anyone from learning more.

So, I created the Google Community called “Google Hangouts for Teachers”. Here is my vision for this group.

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As the group grows, the Hangouts will become more and more diverse. This is member driven, not admin driven. Meaning, I will be posting about Google Hangouts for The Educator’s Book Club, but anyone is welcome to post about Google Hangouts, in general. The purpose of this group is to provide a community of teachers excited about education and interested in connecting with other educators. For example, if you are reading Dave Burgess’ “Teach Like a Pirate” or revamping your brain break activities, post about your interest and invite for a Google Hangout session. My hope is that there will be other teachers interested in those same topics and willing to partake in a hangout session. Brew some coffee, put on some comfy clothes, and video chat with other teachers from the comfort of your own home!

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I have already created a couple of categories within the group: Professional Development, The Educator’s Book Club, and New Teacher/Mentor. I am excited about all three opportunities, but I am really excited about the New Teacher/Mentor category. How many of you are starting your first year teaching, but are unaware of any new teacher training at your school? Maybe your school doesn’t have a mentor program established yet, or never has. I started teaching mid-school year about 4 years ago, and didn’t have a mentor or new teacher program. I survived that year, and pulled many, many late nights. However, looking back, I wish I had been a part of a program. The following year, I transferred to a different school, and this school did have a program. I can’t tell you how valuable those meetings were, or how helpful my mentor was for me! I’d love for this community to be just as, or more, helpful for other teachers!

I still have a lot to learn in the field of education. I still turn to my mentors for help. But I also have learned a lot during these past four years and have a couple tips that I would love to share. I would prefer to not be the only “mentor” and would love to welcome more seasoned teachers to the group. My thoughts are to host New Teacher/Mentor Hangouts once a month, with focused topics for each discussion ranging from parent communication to time management.

If you are interested in connecting with other teachers about continuing professional development, please join us! This group is about our professional growth no matter how long we have been teaching. New teachers and seasoned teachers are all welcome.

Currently, I am co-hosting Google Hangouts with Margie Pearse as we discuss her book, Teaching Numeracy, with other EBC members. The discussions have been wonderful so far!

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Hopefully, the Google Hangouts for Teachers community will grow and be a wonderful place for teachers to “hangout” and discuss more about our profession!

If you are interested, just click here or click on the “Google Hangout for Teachers” image above. If you aren’t sure how to create a Google Plus account, then check out this video below.