10 ways to start the school year with a bang


Teaching | Thursday, August 4, 2016

10 ways to start the school year with a bang

The first days of a school year are an invigorating time. Make the most of them with these ideas. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

The first days of a school year are an invigorating time. Make the most of them with these ideas. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

The beginning of the school year is such an invigorating time. It’s still so full of potential and possibility.

Plus, there’s that joy that we teachers get from new school supplies (something I’m sure is not fully appreciated by most other professions!).

As we gear up for the new school year (or have already begun it), there are lots of things we can do to get it started on the right foot. Here are some suggestions, and be sure to add yours at the end in a comment!

1. Choose your one word. Companies spend tons of time and money coming up with the perfect mission statement. We can accomplish just as much with one word. Try boiling your emphasis for the year into one word. It provides a laser focus. Plus, it’s easy to post in your classroom and at your desk for a reminder. One year, I wrote about choosing “voice” as my word.

2. Get plugged in to a new network of ideas. For several years now, I’ve found the best ideas and helpful people on Twitter. (What? You’re not using Twitter professionally yet??? It’s not too late … check out my Twitter for teachers guide!) Whether on Twitter or otherwise, it’s easy to get in a rut, so to speak. We hear the same voices, sometimes say the same things and read the same messages. Breaking out of that rut can jolt our beliefs and make us a little mad. But it makes us better and helps us grow. Here’s a huge list of Twitter hashtags (think of them as targeted educator communities) to browse.

3. Find your one thing. Education conferences used to make me feel overwhelmed. Being in Twitter education circles can do it, too. I’ve often thought, “These people are doing so much that I’m not doing. Am I doing a disservice to my students?”

Absolutely not.

Just because other educators are doing it doesn’t mean you have to. Be judicious. Find one thing (maybe two) that you want to incorporate this year. Learn about it. Get really good at it. Help your students get really good at it. Then — and only then — move on to something else. Build the class of your dreams one brick at a time with these new things. Pretty soon, you’ll turn around and won’t recognize the class you’ve built!

4. Get a sheet of paper and start from scratch. We talked about ruts earlier. It’s easy to get into curriculum ruts, too. With all that’s available to us in education — new tools, new best practices, new ideas — maybe it’s time to start over. What if we set aside the status quo (what we’ve done for so long) and started from scratch? (You don’t have to throw those old lesson plan books away. We’re just setting them aside for a moment.) What if we considered those new ideas, tools and best practices — anything that’s powerful whose full potential hasn’t been tapped — and started designing new lessons, activities and experiences around them?

So often, we try to plug new ideas into our old ways of doing things. That’s a recipe for limiting their vast potential. Instead, tap into the superpowers of those new ideas and see what happens.

5. Create a student survey. The best experts on what it’s like to be a student in your class are your students. Ask them. You might be surprised at the insight you get on the atmosphere, the activities and the overall message of your class.

6. Reflect. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hum of everyday life in class. There’s grading, lesson planning, teaching, meetings, email … and the list goes on. It can be hard to carve out time to reflect on what’s going right and what you want to do differently. Before things get too crazy in the midst of the school year, take some time and consider:

  • What do you and your students really like about your class? What are its strengths?
  • What parts would you like to improve?
  • What hurdles are in the way?
  • What realistic things could help you improve?
  • What are some moonshot ideas? (Click here to learn more about these big ideas!)

7. Consider the DITCH framework. On my best days, this is a framework that has helped me create an engaging learning environment and lessons that got my students interested in what we were learning. It includes making the classroom:

  • Different
  • Innovative
  • Tech-laden
  • Creative
  • Hands-on

Want to learn more about this framework? Check out this post, where I dig into each point.

8. Bring a pillow and blanket to school. This might seem a little counterintuitive, but hear me out. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a brief, 20- to 30-minute nap during the day. Michael Hyatt, a business and productivity blogger, wrote about how napping during the day has helped him immensely. I’ve tried this myself. After a quick snack at the beginning of my 30-minute lunch period, I would nap at my desk (or behind my desk with a blanket!) for the remaining 20 minutes or so. It did wonders for my energy for the rest of the day.

9. Incorporate white noise. For some students, a completely silent classroom is as distracting as a noisy classroom. (Or more distracting!) Playing music with lyrics can be distracting, but having some sort of background noise can help. Noisli is great for this. It plays different types of “white noise”, like a thunderstorm, rustling leaves, or my favorite — a busy coffeehouse. That buzz in the background can help students feel focused and even minimize the occasional distracting noise in the classroom.

10. Visualize. Elite athletes do this all the time. They visualize the perfect race. A swimmer might envision what it feels like to stand on the starting blocks, snap into motion as the starting horn sounds, carve the perfect strokes through the water, execute a fast turn and finish the race. They do it because envisioning the perfect race helps them execute at their top level when the time comes. We can tap into this in the classroom. Visualize your time in the hallway with students. The perfect introduction to a lesson. The right attitude when answering questions. Your visualizations can turn into reality.

[reminder]What are other ways to set yourself up for a great school year? How can we start the school year with a bang?[/reminder]

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  • “Family” is my word this year.

  • […] from Ditch That Textbook, recently posted 10 Ways to start the school with a bang. I can only handle one at a time. So, here is […]

  • Shari Sauer says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your great ideas! I am an elementary school counselor and am sooooo looking forward to “ditching the textbook” — although I don’t even have a textbook! I’m planning to use innovative thinking, give me students choice as far as seating and projects, and use more tech — like connecting with experts through SKYPE. Thanks for the inspiration! Keep up the good work! Oh — and one of my FAVORITE things you put in the book was to keep time for yourself — when you shared about the day you went home to both of your children sleeping, & decided to make some changes. Way to go Dad!

  • I work with college students and found post a really helpful way to center my thinking for the upcoming semester. Maybe the most interesting one for me is #7. I work a lot with gaming theory and even write about it mindmeetsgame.com. The DITCH framework certainly plays into many of the elements of this philosophy. It may also be worth mentioning that many universities are focusing more on design thinking so the DITCH could be extremely valuable to teachers and students who invest in this concept. Great Stuff!

  • […] 10 ways to start the school year with a bang #edchat @jmattmiller ditchthattextbook.com/2016/08/04/10-… […]

  • Commit to share! One tech tip, one lesson idea, a new tech tool, a positive anecdote or student/classroom story, a Twitter hashtag or person – once a week, once a month, at staff meetings – just share!

    • Chuck Poole says:

      Love this idea of sharing Kindy as well as all of the ones on the list! My goal this year is to share quite a bit and I have even created a Private Facebook Group for teachers just to have a place to collaborate! I think it will be awesome. I use Twitter as well and just wanted to find a more stagnant platform that was a bit easier to follow and collaborate together.

  • Dawn Rankin says:

    Just shared this post with teachers in my district! I signed up for Noisli right away…how cool!

  • Mary Hopper says:

    It’s August 4th, and I’m halfway through my third day with elementary kids! I’m so blessed to be teaching a project-based learning (PBL) class this year, and it seems like the kids are really excited. I’m semi-surveying the kids by having them write 1-2 ideas on a sticky note so I can key in on things they’d like to try, do, and make. I have no pre-planned curriculum, and no purchased program or textbooks. Hallelujah!!! Feels a little scary is some moments, but I feel like this is a teacher’s dream scenario. The kids and I are in this together, and we’re going to build an awesome year of creating and innovating together. Can’t wait to dig in!

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