Tips for the Back-to-School Season

Hold onto this advice from the TT Advisory Board during this critical time of year.
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Back-to-school season is in full swing. Whether it’s your first year working as an educator or your 15th, this season is an important mile marker in every school year. We touched base with the TT Advisory Board, asking them, “What advice do you have for your fellow educators as you look ahead to a new school year? What’s your best tip for starting the year off right?” Here’s what some of the board members shared with us.

Carrie Gaffney: My advice to all teachers is to understand that the work will always be there. If we worked every single second of every day, the sense of urgency would be the same. As such, taking care of ourselves really does need to be a priority. Whenever I am tempted to put self-care aside, I remind myself that students deserve a refreshed collaborator every day. 

To start the year off right, I always recommend teachers focus their time and effort on establishing the classroom community they want. While getting students engaged in content is crucial, I have found that introducing content under positive classroom conditions makes what they're learning more valuable. 

Sarah Neely: Building community is the key to beginning the school year right. I like to start off the year with asking the students to bring in their favorite books or artifacts from home that represent parts of their character. The first few days, there are lots of opportunities to share about ourselves and to listen to and learn about others. I also send home an extensive survey for adults at home to fill out about their family's interests, cultures and languages.

Joe Schmidt: Take the time prior to the beginning of the year to plan. Starting with a clear plan and high expectations helps set the stage for the year. Students are going to be nervous even if they won't admit it. Ease their anxiety by being ready to go on day one and letting them know exactly what you expect from them. 

Celeste Payne: Get to know your students. On the first day, I have students introduce themselves. I ask them to include by which pronouns (e.g., he, she, they) they want to be referred. This year, I will also be asking students to complete a survey in which they tell me by which name and pronouns I should refer to them when I speak to other faculty and to their parents. It's a small but significant way to honor students’ identities, to be inclusive and to signal your allyship. 

Amber Makaiau: Begin with reflection. What did you most enjoy about the last school year? What were some things you learned that you want to apply to this school year? Then, pick a few tangible changes that you can make in your practice and implement them right away. Through this process of reflection, I learn to see my teaching with new eyes, and I get excited about trying something different with my new group of students.

Michelle Higgins: The key words are "look ahead." Each year, we meet and work with many new students. Some years feel more successful than others. Transferring those feelings of success from one year to another is helpful. However, if you or your students struggled during the previous year, it can be difficult to look forward to another school year, but that is precisely what we need to do as educators...keep looking forward to all of the neat lessons, unexpected "a-ha" moments, and the times that we celebrate learning and being part of a community together. If those times are few and far between, start creating some celebrations and build them into your school year. You and your students will benefit from the events—big or small—and it will help you to look forward to another successful year of learning.

Amy Melik: Think of the school year as a marathon. You'll need energy for every step of the way, so do not expend all of your energy in the beginning, or you won't make it to the finish line. As you look at your entire year, set realistic and achievable goals for yourself every month or two. DO NOT reinvent the wheel and BE SURE to take care of yourself along the way!

Soñia Galaviz: An often-untapped resource at the start of the year are the parents and families of the kids we teach. A call, a letter or a home visit can begin a powerful collaboration between your classroom and your students' homes. This investment at the beginning of the year pays off all school year. Parents and families will see you as their partner and advocate for their child and will be there for you when you need them.

Here’s to a great back-to-school season!