Plan Proactively: Your Top Four Before Students Enter the Door
It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for…receiving your class roster for the new school year! You’re anxious to start planning and preparing for the students who will soon be sitting at their desks and smiling back at you. Because there is so much to be done, getting started can often feel overwhelming. Here are four proactive steps you can take today to ensure your new class gets off to a great start. I call it Top Four Before They Walk Through the Door.
- Birthday cluster: To prepare for both the developmental needs of individuals and the overall class composition, begin with a birthday cluster. Looking at the month and year, determine the chronological age for each student and then organize them from oldest to youngest. While growth proceeds at different rates and can be uneven, this information will prove invaluable as you plan for the social, emotional, physical, and academic needs of your students.
- Classroom organization considerations: With your birthday cluster in hand, you’re ready to plan for the classroom space. Begin to think about what these students will need to be successful. A planning map can help you sketch out where furniture will be placed, prepare for traffic flow, and plan out the location of supplies and wall displays. Make the space a reflection of students by planning where their work can be displayed, creating a space each student can call their own, and ensuring you have a Morning Meeting circle area where everyone fits comfortably. The ultimate goal is to create a space where students feel a sense of comfort and belonging and in which they can develop the skills of responsibility and independence.
- Individual introductions: Connecting with families allows you to begin to form a relationship with students and parents alike. Consider making a phone call to each home, creating a video introduction about yourself, or inviting students for a classroom visit before the first day of school. By learning just one thing about each student – a topic of study that excites them, a favorite hobby, or something important in their life – you will be able to make them feel valued before they even arrive on the first day. Building a relationship with the student and their family will help establish a proactive partnership for the year ahead.
- Be open-minded: It can be tempting to talk with former teachers or read information being passed along from the previous grade. While certain facts are essential, such as allergies or other private information, give each child the benefit of a blank slate. Allow yourself to learn the strengths of the child without clouding your vision by focusing on where the child struggles. You will have a different relationship with this child as they continue to grow and mature; a fresh start to the new year ensures an atmosphere where equity is valued for all.
Whether a novice teacher or veteran, keep these Top Four Before They Walk Through the Door on your annual to-do list. As educators, when we begin each year with proactive planning, positivity, and optimism, we create the conditions to ensure each child will thrive!
Written by Jenni Lee Groegler Pierson, Reading Recovery and literacy support teacher in Flemington, New Jersey, certified Responsive Classroom consulting teacher, and co-author of Empowering Educators: A Comprehensive Guide to Teaching Grades 3, 4, 5