By Daniel O’Brien
Back to school. Those three little words that can evoke such a variety of emotions in us all: from excitement to anxiety, anticipation to fear. And were not just talking about the students!
Yes, it’s that time again. The new school year is starting. Maybe it’s just begun for you or perhaps you are already a few weeks into it and are beginning to hit your stride. Either way, each and every new year presents its own unique challenges and opportunities. How we face them can make all the difference in how successful this new year will be for us. To that end, here are a few ideas that are definitely worth considering.
Returning Teachers and Administrators – There’s no doubt about it, a new school year is certainly easier in many ways for those of us that are returning to our school from the previous year. We know the school layout, its culture and are familiar with district policies and procedures. We may even have our classroom or office ready to go. Good for us. But even still, we will likely have new students that we don’t know and that don’t know us. There will be familiar faces and new ones. The familiar is always easy, but it is the unknown that presents a challenge. How will we deal with that?
Perhaps we’ve set some goals for ourselves. What are yours for the new year? Perhaps you want to give better, more timely feedback to your students. That’s great. Maybe you have decided to focus on finding ways to inspire and motivate your students, or you perhaps want to build a more positive school-culture and sense of community in your classroom. Maybe you just want to be more patient and understanding with students, parents and faculty. Those are all really worthy goals.
Are you implementing some new curriculum, a different teaching idea or method? If it’s something you’re really excited about, be sure to share it with your colleagues. Need some ideas? Ask your co-workers what’s working for them. These are all great goals, any one of which can keep things fresh and help us to stay motivated.
Educator Nicole Jarvis, recently sent out a back-to-school tweet commenting on the importance of “embarking on a new school year with new ideas and resolve.” In many ways, our initial boost of enthusiasm can provide the impetus we need to start the new year off right and set the tone for the entire semester. And — as everyone knows — enthusiasm is contagious. I often find that whenever I’m excited about what I do, it’s so much easier to get my students interested too. It’s really that simple.
New, Newer and Newest – What if this is a new gig for you, how can you best handle that? If you’re an experienced teacher but are at a new job, then you probably already know to take things one day at a time. As CSUN Professor of Education Larry Stoffel often used to say to his credential program candidates, “Remember, it’s about evolution, not revolution.” We will be the most successful if we get to know the culture, policies and procedures of our new school before we go begin making, or even suggesting, any big changes. This is true for teachers and administrators both.
New to Independent Study – What if you are a brand-new teacher in your first assignment or just new to independent study? Independent study definitely has its own challenges, and — as with any new job — it does take some time to get oriented, to get situated and familiar with the job. But you can and will be successful. Just take it one day at a time. Try to find a mentor, an experienced teacher or administrator who can support you and guide you. A person like that can be a life-saver. Also, take advantage of CCIS. We are an invaluable resource for professional development in connection with Independent Study (IS) programs, networking and being able to share ideas with our fellow IS teachers and administrators.
Focus on the Students – It probably goes without saying, but for many of our students a new school year can be anxiety inducing for them too. So what can we do to help alleviate their anxiousness and set them at ease? One of the most important thing we can do for these new students is to make the feel welcome. A surprisingly simple, but effective strategy is this: Just say, “Hello!” And smile. Yes. Just that.
As writer Max Eastman says, “A smile is the universal welcome.” But you knew that already, didn’t you? By greeting students each day and doing so in a warm and genuine way, we can make a huge difference in how they perceive us as their teacher. This simple teaching trick will certainly affect their overall perception of school in general as well. And it’s research based!
As reported on by Edutopia, “A new study finds that greeting students at the door increases engagement by 20% and reduces disruptions by 9% — effectively adding 1 hour of learning per day.” Wow. That’s certainly worth knowing. An extra hour of instruction each and every day just because I said “Hello!” to my students? Yes. Absolutely, yes. I can do that. I will do that.
This Positive Greetings at the Door (PGD) strategy is certainly one of the easiest, and most fun, ways we can improve students’ classroom behavior.
But it’s not just the students we want to think about. Parents have anxiety as well. In a recent, back-to-school OpEd in the Washington Post, Jackie Spinner, mom of a first-grader with autism/special needs, shared her anxieties saying, “Many parents worry about the first days of a new school year, about cyber bullying and peer pressure, about racial inequality and adequate resources in public schools, about whether their child will fit in.” So we need to keep them in mind as well. A little compassion here can go a long way. Yes it can.
Group Orientation – I’ve found it particularly helpful to hold a group orientation early in the school year where parents are invited to the classroom. Not only does it serve as an effective icebreaker, but it also builds a sense of community — something which can often be hard to do in an independent study program/setting. This might be one of the few times in the year that your students all get to see and meet their classmates. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Many schools host a “Back-to-School Night” for just this purpose. Take advantage of it. It’s your superpower.
A big part of our job is simply to smile, put people at ease and make them feel welcome. I know they didn’t teach that in your credential program, but it’s true. And it’s easy to do.
We don’t have to do it all! – Whether we are new on the job or seasoned veterans, we don’t have to do everything, and we certainly don’t have to do it all at once. Implementing even just one positive change at a time can make a huge difference in our teaching. And it feels good, and it’s empowering.
For all of its challenges, teaching is — at least for many of us — the best profession possible. We touch lives in ways that few others can. We make a lasting difference in the lives of our students and their families. And ultimately, that is what it’s really all about.
The First Day Of School is a moment worth celebrating,
whether it’s your first first day, or your 30th.
So, do you have an new curriculum idea or teaching method you’re excited about? Share it! Do you have an inspiring quote or message about teaching? Post it! Do you have a pressing need or a question, something you need a little bit of help with? Ask away!
Whether you’re new on the job or a seasoned veteran, every year has its unique benefits, opportunities and challenges. Some things we can anticipate and prepare for, others will remain unknown until they are thrust upon us. But the good news is that a lot of what determines our outcome is up to us. Simply put, our attitude and preparation for the expected and the unexpected can set the tone for a positive educational experience for everyone involved, including ourselves.
We may be in independent study, but we are not alone. Take advantage of all the resources you have — including CCIS — to empower yourself and your teaching. Your students will thank you.
The new school year is here. Let’s make it the best one yet!
- On September 24, 2018