Starting off Strong: A Back to School Guide for Teachers

August 22nd, 2013 | by Stephan Maldonado
Starting off Strong: A Back to School Guide for Teachers

Back to School


Summer is coming to a close, and while you may have already gotten yourself into the “back to school” mindset, your students are still lamenting the end of their vacations. The transition from summer-to-September is never easy, affecting both students and teachers. By taking proactive measures to gather your resources before the big “first day,” both you and your students are guaranteed to start the school year off strong.

Beginning a new school year may be difficult for a number of reasons. Students can be easily distracted as they reunite with friends, and those students who have moved into a new and unfamiliar town may be preoccupied with making friends of their own. Regardless of how they spent their summer months, all students are faced with a world of “new”: new teacher, new schedule, new expectations. It is during this time that you must establish classroom management, while developing a sense of community. The beginning of a new school year is an excellent “excuse” to utilize creative and engaging activities and lesson plans within your classroom.

Engaging Activities for the First Day(s) Back

It is important to make sure students are engaged and active participants in the learning process, especially during the first few weeks. Starting off your school year strong lays the foundation for a successful academic year. It is important to maintain high levels of motivation for both you and your students; Coordinating creative and engaging classroom activities allow students to gain a level of confidence and comfort in the classroom.

  • Build student confidence: “Free writing” prompts that allow students to freely discuss how they spent their summer vacation provides them with an appropriate outlet to talk about their experiences, while providing you with a gauge of the students’ level of skill and proficiency. Students learn how to write a story, while sharpening their grammar and organizational skills.

  • Take advantage of literature: Strengthening your students’ reading and comprehension skills is an important part of the curriculum, regardless of grade level. Incorporate “read alouds” into your first few days back to school as an essential tool to increase student participation and motivation, while still aligning your schedule with the school’s curriculum. See below for examples of books that discuss “back to school” jitters. Visit Scholastic’s Classroom Solutions for more invaluable resources for back-to-school ideas.

    • Chrysanthemum, Kevin Henkes
    • How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Mark Teague
    • Help! I’m in Middle School…How Will I Survive?, Merry L. Gum

  • Have fun! Organizing icebreakers and “getting to know you” activities are great ways for students to get to know each other, and for you to get to know your new students! Activities such as the Human Knot allow students to get up out of their seats and interact with each other while working on team building and communication skills.

Establishing Community: the Responsive Classroom® Approach

One of the most important aspects of the first few days back to school is finding a balance between establishing classroom management and creating a welcoming sense of community within the classroom. Developing this balance not only assures a strong start in September, but also maintains a productive and encouraging learning environment throughout the school year. One way to maintain this sense of balance is by integrating the Responsive Classroom® Approach into your teaching style. Building upon your academic curriculum, the Responsive Classroom® Approach incorporates practices which expand upon students’ social and emotional growth, providing them with a truly well-rounded education.

Developed by the Northeast Foundation for Children (NFC), the Responsive Classroom® Approach provides students with a sense of autonomy within the classroom. Increasing students’ confidence towards their learning directly influences their level of motivation and overall engagement, creating a strong sense of community within your classroom environment.

While integrating the Responsive Classroom® Approach has positive effects throughout the school year, utilizing these tactics within the first few weeks of school can prove especially useful. Visit the TeacherTube ResponsiveClassroom channel to see how you can begin using the Responsive Classroom® Approach in your room.

Don’t Forget About You

While it is important to provide students with a smooth summer-to-school transition, it is also essential to make sure that you, the teacher, take steps to make sure you start your school year with a well-equipped arsenal of resources. One of the values of becoming a teacher is being able to have a summer vacation. While it is important to reward yourself spending quality time with friends and family, spending your summer vacation enriching your teaching skills is a sure-fire way to make sure you begin September starting off strong.

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