September 2015 – Vol. 28 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:

2 Responses

  1. Great advice Nikki! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks :)

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More Than 1,400 Science Educators Prepare to Convene in Sacramento

Posted: Thursday, September 17th, 2015

by Deb Farkas

As we get ready to go full steam ahead with implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards and eagerly await the new California Science Framework, there is no better place to be in early October than here in Sacramento, where you will find workshops, speakers, field experiences, short courses and more to inspire and re-energize your teaching. If you are not one of the more than 1,000 teachers to have registered, I invite you to do so today.

Don’t miss opening speaker, Ainissa Ramirez. Author, engineer and science evangelist, Dr. Ramirez will encourage us to ignite the spark of curiosity in all of our students and get them excited about science. Former astronaut José Hernández will close our conference with an account of his journey from migrant farm worker to engineer to mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Discovery, and his work inspiring children to “reach for the stars.” We are also pleased to offer you a variety of highly regarded focus speakers in science and education. Learn about a strength-based approach to early science education, bringing deep sea data to the classroom, ZomBees, engaging students in engineering, and literacy, non-verbal communication patterns and social justice in the science classroom. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Trying NGSS with Paper Clips and Gummy Worms

Posted: Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

by Joanne Michael

By now, most teachers have heard of NGSS, know that it is not going away, and have realized they will be teaching this new set of standards within the next few years. While some are excited at the possibility of new happenings, others are terrified at the prospect of having to change curriculum that they have spent years fine-tuning and tweaking. A few districts are implementing NGSS early, working out the kinks and creating guides for the rest of the state, but what about the teachers that want to venture out and try the new curriculum without the support of the entire district? It seems daunting, but there are some ways to ease into the NGSS world. Learn More…

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is the K-5 science specialist at Meadows Elementary in Manhattan Beach, CA, and CSTA’s intermediate grades 3-5) Director.

High School Teachers – We Need Your Help!

Posted: Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

CSTA and its partners are trying to get a sense of what high school science looks like across the state. We are interested in knowing how many years of science your district requires for graduation, what the typical course taking patterns are, and a sense of the high school science teaching workforce. If you are in a position to answer these questions please take the survey. If you can’t provide that information we ask that you share this link with your district science leader or other appropriate administrator. It should not take very long to complete (less than 5 minutes) and the information will help CSTA and our partners as we plan NGSS activities and support. Thank you for filling out the survey yourself or for directing it to the appropriate person.

Take Survey

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

CSTA Honors Rising Stars, Advocates, and Distinguished Contributors to Science Education in 2015

Posted: Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2015 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Legislator of the Year, Future Science Teacher, Honorary Memberships, and the new Bertrand Advocacy Award. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2015 California Science Education Conference on October 2 – 4 in Sacramento. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them! Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Northern Happenings for September–Region 1

Posted: Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

September already – allow me to add my welcome back wish to the others you are hearing across all 29 counties that make up CSTA Region 1!


CSTA Regions Map

It has certainly been a busy summer with California Science Project events across the region, and lots of activity at Math Science Partnership Grant projects as well. As you come back to class this fall, consider your summer learning, and think about how you might share it at a future CSTA conference! This year you will no doubt be trying out what you learned in your classes. By next spring you will know what you could share with colleagues at the 2016 Science Educators Conference to be held in Palm Springs. It seems a long time from now, but if you have the idea in mind as you teach your students, you can be on the lookout for what would be wonderful to share with other K-12 teachers in California. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.