September 2014 – Vol. 27 No. 1

Getting Ready for a New School Year

Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

by Nikki Bailey

Renewal, self-reflection, collaboration and willingness to change are some of the keys to my professional growth. Each year, I have a process to get myself ready for the first days of school. My current strategies are outlined below. I say current, as they seem to evolve each year as my content and coworkers change.

The first step to getting ready for the school year is to renew. Taking personal time, enjoying time with family and friends, doing the things in my house that have been ignored during the busy school year, and relaxing are some ways to renew. Without this renewal, when starting to gear up for the new year, it is possible that stress and fatigue set in earlier.

Second, I go through my first unit and plan out what it is I want to accomplish in my classroom during the first month of school, reflecting on what worked last year, and what didn’t.

  • Did the lessons hit enough learning styles?
  • Was there enough variety in my teaching, or was the delivery repetitive?
  • Did the students get enough initial feedback so they could learn how my class is structured?
  • How was my classroom management?
  • Where there enough routines established so that the students knew what to expect?
  • How was my time management?

Honest reflection is the key to this process. Being able to honestly critique yourself is a skill that takes time to develop, and can be difficult, but this was the starting point for my growth as an educator.

Although I use a file cabinet for keeping the extra handouts, it is not a user-friendly way to evaluate a unit of work as a whole. For that reason, I have created a binder for each unit that shows the daily calendar, the student handouts, activities, and tests. Each time a lesson is completed, I reflect on what worked and what didn’t and make a list of things to change and things to keep the same. These binders are my starting place for reflection. My advice is to create a portable system where you can look at your lessons and reflect easily.

As the school year starts and the whirlwind continues, I try to remember to take time for reflection at least once per unit. Remembering which activities were good and which were not as good is easy, but I don’t remember what specifics needed changing unless they get written down. This reflection gets written on a Post-it® and stuck directly on the student handout in the binder. In all honesty, this is the most important step in my preparation and when I don’t follow through, it makes it that much harder to improve the lesson.

Third, I set up at least one summer meeting with the people I work closely with. We discuss our individual plans for changes and come together to agree on a new way to proceed for the new year. We also take time to discuss what we did over the summer and to renew our bonds. Though not often talked about, this is just as important as discussing teaching strategies. We need to feel connected to and comfortable with our colleagues in order to feel comfortable discussing our successes and failures, of which there may be many! This year, we are working on making chemistry more conceptual and open-ended, with the hope of teaching our students to be able to problem solve more independently. We have included several lessons that we feel will help the students, but we won’t know until our students give us feedback.

Once the new school year gets underway, we each implement the new strategies we talked about over the summer and then discuss the outcomes, both positive and negative. There have been times when the activities fail miserably in my classroom, but worked like a charm in my neighbor’s room. We talk to each other constantly to make sure that growth is happening, and we are honest in our assessments. This year, we will discuss the students’ growth in their thinking, and adapt lessons as needed to help in this process.

Finally, I am always willing to change, as change is growth. There are times that I bore myself, so it follows that my students are bored. This is when it is important to take time and find new ways to integrate technology, games, hands-on activities, and group work. I talk to co-workers in different grade levels or subjects to see what strategies they use, look online for different ideas, and, when possible, go to conferences. Talking to a teacher from any grade level and any subject is helpful, as any activity can be adapted for any grade level or content.

Classroom success is directly related to the time taken for renewal, reflection, and collaboration with peers. Renewal allows you to remember there is life outside of your classroom, reflection is the step that allows your lessons to improve, and collaboration gives you the support to try new ideas. If I miss one of these steps, inevitably the school year is harder than it needs to be.

Nikki Bailey teaches chemistry at Poly High School in Long Beach and is a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

2 Responses

  1. Great advice Nikki! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks :)

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