Friday, August 19, 2016

5 Ways To Make It The BEST Year Ever!

Back to school is made easier when we have everything in place, including lesson plans, materials, our behavior management plan in place and so on.
It also makes the rest of the year go more smoothly when we are better prepared from the start.
The concept of being prepared isn't a new one.
We all know we need to be prepared for the year.

That's why we think about it and plan all summer long! 
And go into our classrooms weeks ahead of the students to plan and prepare!


It really depends on the needs of the students who are going to walk through your classroom door.

1. Know Your Students' Needs

Are they already reading? Spend time planning lessons that will challenge.
Are many of them behind? Spend time planning intervention lessons that will move them up.
Is their behavior a problem? Treat that like an academic issue and plan lessons that will teach proper behavior.
Most likely, you will have a little of all of the above.

So your first step is to determine where your students' needs lie and plan accordingly. 
Don't wait until they walk in the door.

Hopefully you will have some data to look at ahead of time.

Imagine Meet the Teacher:
A student walks into your room with her parents. You introduce yourself and once you hear her name, you know something about her because you've already looked at her reading, writing, math and behavior data. You've already had conversations with resource teachers and others in the building who have had your students.
You are able to say, "Wow, Alyssa! I hear you are reading really well already! I can't wait to see how far you will go this year!"
Or, you know that Felicity is strong in math, but a little weaker in reading. 
You are able to say, "Hi Felicity! I'm so glad to meet you! I heard you are a super star in math! You will LOVE our 1st grade math activities this year." No need to comment on the reading, but you could mention to parents that you will be focusing on helping Felicity become a strong reader this year.
When you study your students' needs ahead of time, you can:
* Seat them accordingly
* Group them accordingly
* Greet them accordingly
* Make parents aware and confident and that you already know their child's needs
* Build strong relationships immediately with students and parents
* Plan differentiated lessons that meet their needs
* Start off to a great school year!

2. Work Collaboratively With Your Team

If you are fortunate enough to have a great team, you are well on your way to a great year!
The wisdom and experience of your teammates is one of the best resources you have.
(If you don't have a team, or your team doesn't work well together, find others who are great resources and who are willing to collaborate regularly with you.)

Set specific days and times to meet and have an agenda for each meeting.
Don't spend time reinventing the wheel by yourself.
Work together and the time you spend collaborating may seem like a big sacrifice, but actually will save you tons of time figuring things out on your own.
Trust me. This is HUGE!

But you have to use your time well. 
So plan what you will do and when you will do it.
For example:
Monday Mornings: On your own
Tuesday Mornings: Plan/discuss literacy
Wednesday Mornings: Plan/discuss math
Thursday Mornings: Plan/discuss social studies, science, art
Friday Mornings: Staff meetings (or on your own)

* Set a starting time and ending time.
* Agree as a team to stick to the times.
* A leader is assigned and leads the meetings
* Agree as a team to talk about personal or non-related topics at a different time.
* Agree that this time is sacred and must be focused on what will be most helpful for students.
* Agree to focus on things YOU CAN CHANGE, not waste time discussing things you have no control over.
* Agree to be solution-oriented.
* Prepare a generic outline of what to plan/ discuss each time (next week's skills, standards to cover, best comprehension questions to use that will focus on those standards, small group strategies, etc.)
* Follow the outline and/or change it to better meet your students' needs

I know this sounds like a drill sergeant needs to oversee your meetings, but you will be sooooooo much more productive if you follow guidelines.

Think about how business meetings are led:
Members of the team have agendas.
One person leads in a professional manner.
The team stays focused on the agenda and goals for the meeting.
Members start and end on time.

a business would go under if employees did not collaborate or were not productive during meetings.

Your team will SHINE at your school if you collaborate well!

3. Design A Purposeful Decor

Everything in your room and on your walls should be for the students' benefit. 
In other words,
If it doesn't help your students meet their specific needs and goals, get rid of it. 
Or else it's just a distraction for students.
And we all know they are already easily distracted, so why add to their distraction?
Wall space is at a premium.
Floor space is at a premium.
Use it wisely.
We all love cutesy. But if that's all it is, don't use it.
If you will teach from it, or students will use it as a resource, then post it.
If you believe students will use their individual or partner reading time better from sitting on comfy cushions, pillows, and bean bag chairs, then use them. 
But if they are just a distraction, or students fight over them, then they probably need to go.
Really think about your decor. Is it purposeful and helpful with meeting my students' needs?
If not. Get rid of it. Now.

4. Plan Activities That Meet Students' Needs

Again, we all love cute, but if that's all it is, then don't do it.
Reflect on their needs and goals.
Design your lessons around that.
Like many of you, I do a lot of quick assessments with students one on one the first week of school. I need to have activities that are engaging, but will also tell me more about my students' abilities and needs.
Be choosy about those activities.
Our team likes to put a booklet together that students can work on quietly while we do some quick sight word and number recognition assessments.
My Back To School Math and Literacy Activities are perfect for this.
We select only the activities that our students would benefit from and those that are most engaging. There are more than 50 math and literacy pages to choose from.
Some we do together, and some students do independently.
(You can find my student Privacy Resource Folders HERE.)
The privacy folders give privacy, but are also used as a resource tool for students.

Once you have your reading, math and writing groups created, start planning targeted instruction.
We all need to have fidelity to our core programs, but we can emphasize and focus on what is going to help our students the most.
Use your data from school-wide testing, or test students yourself.
Then create your plans.

I have created Targeted Guided Reading Plans that help me stay focused on what my students need most.
See my blog on using Targeted Guided Reading Plans HERE.

I try to ensure that I use my small group instruction time well. 
I use a Must Do, May Do system for reading centers rather than a rotating centers approach.
We have found that this system works much better and we are able to meet student needs better in small group simply because we have more instruction time!
Read about it HERE.

5. Have a Solid Behavior Plan in Place

If you have a behavior plan in place that works, and one you will be consistent with, 
Your year will be much better! 
Your students will learn much more! 
You won't be pulling your hair out!

Seriously though,
You need a plan.
You need to stick to it and be consistent.
You need to teach, model, practice and praise expected behaviors.

At the beginning of the year, I like to use posters to hold up and teach students expected behaviors in places around the school.
Then I post them and refer to them throughout the year.
Here are a few that I use (eleven posters in all):

The posters come with identical activity sheets for practice and discussion.

I like to use the clip chart for behavior simply because students get it, they can move up for good behavior so it's not just penalizing them, and it's a visual for them.
I also reward students with a Happy Go Home Note when they get to pink!
I print them off on pink paper and made into a glued notepad.
We make tally marks on their wooden clips for every time they reach pink, and when they have 5 tallies, they go to the treasure box!
Get these products below, the posters above, and TONS more behavior management resources HERE.

Teach, model, practice, praise expected behaviors.
Read more in my blog post HERE.

Let me know what your thoughts. I'd love to hear from you!
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