This summer has been a bit of a strange one, hasn’t it? It feels like years since we all last had a proper school summer holiday (and that’s maybe because it was! Ah, the glorious summer of 2019…) 2020 was a write-off, but let’s not get into that. Hopefully, this summer you were able to get some well-deserved rest. Maybe you even managed to get away somewhere? I hear Bognor Regis was lovely this time of year. We hope you are continuing to make the most of your time off. To help save you some school prep time we have five back to school tips ready for you because…
…it’s nearly time to look forward to September and the start of the new school year. If all goes to plan, this year should feel like a normal school year. Perhaps, last year was your NQT year and you’re yet to experience ‘normal’? Or maybe you’re an experienced teacher who is feeling a little rusty after a disrupted year. Whatever your situation, do not fear! We’ve got you covered for all your back to school tips and advice below. Read on for the main things you need to be thinking about and preparing for September!
1. Get to know your class
If possible, have a look at previous assessment data for your class(es). If you haven’t met your students yet, any pastoral/behaviour records and previous seating plans are also worth checking.
Make sure you’ve had a chat with any previous teachers to get an idea of the personalities in your new class. The previous teacher will likely be able to give you advice on strategies that work well to motivate these students. Listen to their advice, but don’t feel you have to completely overhaul your teaching approach. It’s more important you are secure in your approach to pedagogy and lesson delivery.
You’ll want to take note of any SEND needs in your classroom which could include Educational Health & Care Plans (EHCP) and Individual Education Plans (IEPs.) These detail the targets and support provisions in place for students with individual learning needs. Arrange to meet with your school Special Educational Needs & Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCo) to go over strategies for best supporting all students to make progress.
Set A Seating Plan
Use the information you gather here to help draft your own seating plan to use in the first few weeks. A seating plan is a really effective way of ‘getting to know’ your class as quickly as possible once the new term starts. If you work in a secondary school and have several classes, have your seating plans to hand so you can check them regularly while you’re still putting names to faces.
Be firm and final with your seating plan – some students may protest at sitting away from their friends or next to someone they don’t get on with. However, you must assert your authority and show that your expectations are that all students follow your instructions. Later on, you can alter the seating plan if some combinations of students aren’t working, but make it clear that this is your decision.
2. Organise your classroom
The next in our back to school tips for teachers involves organising your learning environment. Ensure that you have updated labels on drawers, shelves and boxes with new class codes or names. This not only saves you time when term starts, but also allows your students to access classroom resources more independently…
Student: ‘Where do we put our workbooks, sir?’
Teacher: ‘Ah don’t worry, we’ll figure that out later, just pop them on the side for now…’
(This is an exchange no student wants to hear. It creates an impression of a disorganised classroom where things get left on top of other things before disappearing forever. Preempt this and make sure you know your room!)
Resource wise, make sure you’ve got the right amount of everything: exercise books, lined paper, stationery and of course… glue sticks! This is especially crucial in a primary school where, for some students, not having the full set of books on day one can feel terribly unsettling.
If one of your class rules is ‘always be respectful,’ make sure you set the expectations that this respect extends to classroom supplies too. Students like to feel some ownership over their learning environment, so make it feel like a team effort to look after the classroom.
TOP TIP – Have trays for books to be handed into at the end of each lesson. These could be organised by colour if students complete differentiated tasks in your lessons. Alternatively, they could be graded by students’ confidence in meeting that lesson’s learning objective:
Tray 1. LO not met – I’d like some support, please.
Tray 2. LO partially met – I’m getting there.
Tray 3. LO met – I’d like an extra challenge.
Instruct your students to hand their books in open at the page they were working on to save you time when checking and marking too!
NOTE – If you are feeling totally overwhelmed by a messy classroom, then check out our more in-depth blog on how to declutter your classroom!
3. Reflect on your classroom behaviour management skills
It’s easy to get to the end of your time with a class in July and skimp on the chance to get reflective. Perhaps you had the class from hell where every day was a battle, and you’ve decided to wash your hands of them. Or maybe you had a dream class of angels and you’re brimming with confidence that next year will be more the same!
Either approach could be a mistake… As teachers, we are always evolving and adapting. Positive behaviour management is a vital part of being a successful teacher. Therefore, it’s always important to self-evaluate. One of our back to school tips for behaviour is to ‘expect the best, and prepare for the worst.‘
Behaviour management self-reflection questions
- What strategies did you use to manage classroom behaviour last year?
- What were your stand-out successes?
- Can you unpick the main challenges you faced?
- How will you overcome these next year?
- After speaking with your new classes previous teachers, do you anticipate any challenges which may be new to you?
Write some bullet points/notes to help you to process your thoughts and come up with action points for next year.
Remember it’s always a challenge starting up with new classes so make sure you have refreshed your approach. It’s amazing how a different cohort can behave differently from the previous year. What worked like a charm last year might have lost its magic come September.
We recommend you take our free, accredited online course on positive classroom management too!
4. Planning for success in lessons
By ‘planning for success’ we are talking about your lesson delivery – your classroom routines and transitions between activities. This of course tied directly with behaviour management. Busy and engaged students do not have time to start chatting or losing focus!
It’s really important that you don’t go into a classroom armed only with your lesson plan and the hope that it will all just fall together. For every task or learning point detailed in the lesson plan, ensure you’ve thought about how you will deliver this in the classroom and what you will expect the students to be doing.
Planning to maintain smooth routines and transitions in lessons is perhaps the most important of our back to school tips. Even if your classroom is the tidiest in the world, any lesson will soon fall apart if your lesson delivery is not set up to succeed.
To do this you must ensure that your lessons are accessible and challenging for all students. At each stage in your lesson (entry into the classroom, starter activity, register, main input, distributing resources, main activities, plenary etc.) think about what your students will be doing. If there is any ‘dead time’ where students are sitting and waiting then this is where misbehaviour will start creeping in.
Planning for student engagement
As mentioned, the more students are busy doing something, the less opportunity there is to misbehave. Here are some questions to ask yourself to ensure students remain engaged and active throughout your lesson:
- Are students engaged with a starter / DO NOW activity as soon as they enter the classroom?
- Are your instructions clear? Displayed on the board/worksheet as well as verbally explained?
- Are the activities challenging? Activities that are too easy or too hard will result in boredom and misbehaviour.
- When you are explaining a new concept, how are the students engaging in this? How will you know that they have understood?
- Are your activities accessible? Is there appropriate differentiation, e.g. modelling, scaffolding and structuring, of the work to enable all students to access the learning and be challenged?
- Do students know you’re going to check their efforts? Make sure there is a challenging time frame and a certainty that their learning is going to be checked/assessed.
5. Prepare to create a great first impression
Finally, first impressions are important with a new class whether you are a new teacher to the school or part of the furniture. The first few weeks are the time to set your expectations for behaviour and work ethic. They are an opportunity to give the impression that you are a positive and dedicated teacher that your pupils will want to work and learn with too.
- Make sure you are fair and firm when setting class expectations and rules.
- Try to stay calm and collected – if you have followed our behaviour management advice you won’t be fazed by misbehaviour.
- Deal with early teething problems with firm reminders of the rules and be generous with positive praise for students making good choices.
Thank you for reading this post on back to school tips for teachers. We hope you’ve found it helpful. We’d love you to get in touch over our social media channels if you have any thoughts, questions or tips of your own to share!
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