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If you’re a teacher that participates in teacher groups on social media, there’s a chance you’ve seen a post at some point about a teacher who’s having a hard time with classroom community and/or management. It’s frustrating if you’re the teacher experiencing the problem, and it can be hard to give clear advice online. Or you get SO MUCH advice that it’s hard to wade through it and find helpful/valuable suggestions. One way to circumvent this problem is to spend the first six weeks of school front loading routines and classroom culture, so when you do hit a bump in the road you’re ready for it.
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It can be tempting to hit the ground running and start instruction in the second week of school. Teachers get tons of pressure from outside their classroom, plus we’re only in school for 180 days. It can often feel like we have no time to waste. But slowing down the first six weeks of school will pay off the entire school year. I’d suggest the following goals for the first six weeks of school:
- Create your classroom climate and tone (I’d obviously suggest you strive for something warm, welcoming, and friendly.)
- Teach the schedule and routines to your students, as well as your expectations for their behavior at each part of the day
- Establish expectations for the year ahead
Slowing down the first 6 weeks of school to reach these goals will pay off throughout the year. If you spend the time to build a strong classroom culture, you’ll be able to pick up the pace after week 6.
Regardless of where you are in your teaching career, I’d recommend the book The First Six Weeks of School (Paula Denton & Roxann Kriete) this summer. It’s a super easy read.
This book is great for a lot of reasons, but it lays out sample plans for your first 6 weeks of school and breaks it into K-2 and 3-5. Beginning the school year slowly and building a strong foundation will pay off as the year goes on. One major piece of planning for back to school is teaching routines. Routines are important in every classroom, from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Obviously you have more daily routines/system in younger grades than in older, but every grade needs systems.
A non-exhaustive elementary list would include routines for: how to enter and exit the classroom, arrival, dismissal, how to use the bathroom, how to get supplies, how to turn in work, how to line up, how to ask for help, how to borrow materials, and how to disagree respectfully with a classmate. Teaching each of these routines in the way you want them done takes TIME.
Rushing routines can send mixed signals to kids. When you teach routines, if students don’t perform the routine the way you asked take the time to have them do it again. Yes, you might be late. Yes, it takes time away from instruction, recess, art, etc. BUT it’s better to take 5 minutes to redo a routine at the beginning of the school year than to have your routines take twice as long all year because you’re having to constantly redirect. If you let routines deviate from your stated expectations, you slowly undermine yourself, and then it’s January and you’re wondering why you’re not in control of your classroom and students anymore.
Another important function of the first 6 weeks of school is to establish classroom rules and expectations. In this scenario, I think that it’s better to think about creating expectations rather than rules; expectations are guidelines for expected behavior, whereas rules tell us what NOT to do. For example, expectations might sound like “Work your hardest” whereas a rule might sound like “don’t turn in sloppy work”.
To get the best return on your expectations, aim for about 3-5, which can sound difficult, but if you’re 3-5 expectations are broad and positive they’ll encompass a lot of situations you’ll have to address during the school year. Expectations like “treat others respectfully” work better than “raise your hand to talk” because they can be applied in so many different situations. For example, a student who did NOT raise their hand to talk can still have a conversation about how raising hands is a way to show respect, but that’s not the only transgression covered by this expectation. Treating others respectfully would cover bullying, stealing, lying, blurting, tattling, and general drama. Broad expectations give you more bang for your teacher buck by allowing you to apply them in exponentially more situations.
One last routine I would encourage you to incorporate into your morning routine in elementary and middle school is morning meeting. This is another staple of Responsive Classroom (RC), but it goes so far in establishing a classroom community. RC lays out a really specific format for their morning meeting: greeting, share, activity, message. You can read more about each of these components here, but when done correctly it’s a great way to start your day. It also is the perfect place to address any class issues—exciting (or sad) life events, big/important changes, etc.
Enjoy your summer; soak up the sun, relax, and recharge. But when you’re ready to go back in the fall, make sure you take your time over the first six weeks of school to establish routines and classroom community so you’re prepared for the entire school year.