Back to school has got to be the most important time of the entire school year. There are so many things to think about in order to have a smooth transition from summer vacation to classroom instruction. From classroom management and organization to choosing curriculum and planning units to getting ready for your students to enter your classroom door, you must be ready and equipped ahead of time! This can be stressful…but enjoyable too!
Adequate preparation for the first week is essential for success. I am excited to share with you the most important tips of what has worked for me as you head into and during that all important first week. I hope to help you start the new school year off feeling confident, ready, and at ease! If you are a new teacher just starting out, make sure to also read this post with tons of tips to start you off right and this post with many ways to save time.
10 Teacher Tips for the First Week of School
Head Into School Ahead of Time
Maybe this is a no brainer, but it must be said! Setting up a classroom and getting things ready for a new school year takes time. There is a ton to prep and set up. Leaving it until the day before or even during the first week can add unnecessary stress to your week.
I suggest going into your class at the beginning of the week before school begins. You may already be there to have meetings with the staff or your team, and if not, this is a great time to reconnect with your colleagues. Check in with your administrators and let them know you are looking forward to a new school year.
Find some time when you can close your door and stay focused on what needs to be done. Get those bulletin boards ready and set up your furniture and seating plan. Be comfortable with the layout of your classroom and make sure it is organized and ready for kids.
Now I am not telling you to spend your entire last week of your *precious* summer vacation in the classroom! Just make sure that you get some things done so that you can enjoy the time with your new class once the first week hits.
Create An Organized Classroom
Having a classroom that is organized and ready for students is incredibly important. Making sure the important items in the class have a place and that they are accessible is key. Everything does NOT have to look perfect and have matching colours, labels, bins, etc. While those things are great and nice, they are not necessary.
Having a clean and organized set-up for your classroom books is helpful. I use a standing bookshelf that holds my theme and seasonal books. I also have shelves of books in bins that are labelled to make it easy for students to find what they are looking for. This post HERE outlines how I set up my classroom reading program and how I organize the books my students read. One Sharp Bunch has an amazing classroom set up with tons of great organizational and back to school ideas (check it out HERE).
I suggest also taking the time to organize your classroom resources either in tubs, boxes, folders, or whatever works for you. Keep them together and ready for when that time comes. Organize learning materials for the different subjects in different areas of the classroom. Have an area for school supplies and math manipulatives, have a different space for your centers, and of course, a teacher area with your own personal materials and supplies.
Where do you start? Use the FREE Teacher Checklist to help you get organized. Let me also suggest Pinterest. It is a fantastic place to go for ideas and to see what you might like in your own classroom. Check out my Classroom Organization board for a ton of helpful ideas!
If you can get a hold of your class list, LABEL EVERYTHING!
Pick Your Classroom Management Strategies
Decide before the year begins about what your classroom management will look like. If the strategies you choose require certain materials, have those prepped and ready for the first week of school. Spend a good chunk of the first week of school teaching your students those strategies. Practice and role play different scenarios so they understand the expectations in your classroom.
I am HUGE believer in the power of GREAT classroom management. Classroom management can take on many different forms and it means so many things in a classroom. Without it, our classrooms would probably fall apart and total CHAOS would ensue (kidding, but seriously it’s important)! I have my favourite strategies in a MUST READ post HERE.
My 4 favourite classroom management systems are class coupons, class jobs, class meetings, and team points (click to read the posts). I love these approaches to handling children because it are positive, rather than punitive. They encourage kids to be their best selves and work to improve themselves. They encourage kids to be open minded and responsible. If you are looking for more strategies and ideas, check out the ultimate classroom management resource HERE!
Choose a Classroom Decor Style
Let me start off by saying that you do not need to have the most beautiful classroom or the most color coordinated one either. Your classroom will be wonderful no matter what colors you choose for your bulletin boards or your bins. But chances are if you are a teacher, you have an idea of how you want your classroom to look. You have probably searched Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers for design inspiration…and there is a lot out there.
I encourage you to choose a theme or a few colours and stick with them. Decorate your classroom like you would a room in your home, with care and consideration of its purpose and who will be in that space. Ask yourself if it will encourage student learning or distract them!
Once you have picked and thought up a style that suits you, you get to GO SHOPPING (kidding)! TpT has a ton of classroom decor products. Some of my favourite looks are OMBRE, rainbow chevron, and neon. There are also a ton of DIY projects out there to get you a certain look (HELLO Pinterest). Amazon and the Target Dollarspot are my ONE-STOP-SHOPS for affordable class decor items.
Plan Out Your Year
I cannot stress enough how important it is to do some pre-planning. It is an overwhelming task, but one that needs to be done and better sooner than later. Read and know the curriculum for the grade you teach inside and out. Spend some time before the school year begins mapping out the units and themes you will be teaching. Have an idea of what each month will look like in your classroom.With some planning done ahead of time, you will feel much more relaxed and in control during the first week of school.
To organize the school year, I suggest creating a year long curriculum map with the themes and topics that you will be teaching each month. Jamie from Play to Learn Preschool has some helpful suggestions when planning out your year in PreK. Her ideas and FREE unit planner would work in many primary classrooms.
Once you know what your weekly schedule looks like, create a weekly plan layout with the different subjects in different blocks of time. Enlarge the template and make many copies to leave in your work space. Keep your plan ready and easy to glance at whenever you need. Below is an example of a weekly planning sheet I used previously.
You may also need detailed plans for your individual lessons. Have a template ready that you can use during your lesson planning. Create a template for the different subjects (i.e. math, reading) you teach daily and attach those to your weekly plan. Stay organized and on top of your daily tasks with a FREE teacher task list template that will help you save time!
Get Your Resources Ready
If you have a yearly plan ready and know which resources you will be using to teach different themes and topics, prep them ahead of time. Get to the photocopier when no one is there and run off your class sets of booklets. Get those notebooks ready. Prep those unique materials for different subjects. Print those resources that need cutting and laminating (with these amazing laminating sheets) and get them prepped and ready. Set up your centers, gather your materials, and get bins of manipulatives together.
Use that first week of school (and before if you can) to get everything together that you will need for your first few weeks or even months of school. You WILL be exhausted once school is in session and will not feel like creating, setting up, or organizing your resources. Don’t be the chicken with your head cut off! DO IT EARLY! (you’ll thank me later)
Prepare Activities for the First Day and Week of School
The first day and week of school will come and go very quickly, but they are super important. Those days and moments with your new class will set the stage for the rest of the school year. It is important to make good use of that time together. Think of what kind of year you want to have and how you want things to run. Plan activities that will help set those plans into motion. Take time to build a community together through community building activities (read THIS POST with tons of ideas).
Have a few activities for each day of the first week of school planned ahead of time. This post with back to school tips suggests a few fun welcome activities, including the name art seen above. Over plan activities that encourage new relationships to form. Be flexible because important topics, discussions, and activities may need more time. Teach and use brain breaks frequently! Go outside to play and enjoy the nice weather before it’s gone!!
Teach Classroom Rules, Routines, & Procedures
Spend a good chunk of your first week of school teaching classroom rules, routines, and procedures. There is nothing more important during the first week. Take the time to teach each procedure and routine that you want students to learn one at a time and practice them. Do not assume that they will remember them or do them properly if they are not told, shown, and allowed to try!
Decide early on what your classroom rules will be either on your own or decide together as a class. We spend a few class periods working on our classroom contract. This contract starts as a brainstorm of what we want our classroom to look, sound, and feel like. We vote and choose the ideas that we like best. From there a contract is written that we can all agree on. The contract is something that is referred to often throughout the year. It helps start the year off on the right track!
Each day we recite the Whole Brain rules. They are combined with actions and this encourages students to really develop a connection to their meaning. You can grab a FREE set of Whole Brain rule posters HERE.
Get to Know Your Students
Get to know your students before they enter your classroom door. Send a note or make a quick phone call home to your new students welcoming them and their families to your classroom. Encourage them to stop by and say hello when you are there prepping your class before school starts.
Read each student’s file ahead of time so that you can NOT MAKE JUDGEMENTS, but be better prepared to meet their invidual needs. If necessary, set up times to have informal meetings about particular students with the resource and support teachers to be more informed and ready.
Set up a time to chat with the previous year’s teacher and see if there is anything you need to know ahead of time. Ask them for any assessments they completed at the end of the year and copy those for your files. PLEASE Stay open minded! Know that each child responds differently to different people and different styles of teaching. What one teacher may have found to be a problem student, may be a perfect match for you.
Make or find some time during the first week of school to do a quick assessment of your students. Make observations. Take note of how students act in the class, how they respond to you and their classmates, and what basic skills they have or lack.
Create a quick assessment that you can give to students. Assess those skills that they should know from the previous year to see where they are academically. Add also those skills that you plan on teaching to them over the next few months and see what they know. Do what you can to get a basic overview of each student to help you plan the future.
Do not worry too much about what they do and don’t know. Focus more on getting to know them during the first week. Make them feel comfortable and at home in your classroom.