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Kicking The School Year Off Right: 5 Tips for a Strong Start

Being a teacher provides a magical gift each year –  not the salary or the coffee mugs, but rather the opportunity to start fresh. 

Had a rough school year last year? Didn’t like the flow of your instructional block? Want to try a new way to communicate with parents? 

Guess what? You get the chance to make those changes each fall!

Whether you teach kindergarten in rural Nebraska or AP chemistry in New York City, there are effective approaches you can take to ensure that you are setting yourself up for success in your classroom. While not an exclusive list, here are five strategies for you to take into your new school year: 

1) Be proactive

As the saying goes, “The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.”

Wherever you are, whatever you teach, you have the opportunity to think about what lies ahead.You cannot prevent every student outburst or predict every upset parent, but you can establish relationships with parents and guardians early, pour into your students as humans before you start feeding them content, and have management plans A, B, and C before they actually have to be put into place.

For example, I ask my teachers to establish “buddy rooms” with a colleague before the year starts. That way, if they have a student who needs to cool down or  take a quick break from the current setting, the teacher would have a predetermined space where that student could go. This preventative measure helped us avoid many escalated situations and gave students and teachers an opportunity to reset while instruction continued. 

2) Establish sustainable practices

Early in my career, I started off the year like a machine gun, throwing all my best hooks, games, and ideas within the first month of school. And it was a great first month of school! But there were still nine months to go, and I was worn out by October.

I had to figure out practices that were sustainable over the course of the school year. I did not need a game or a room transformation for every lesson. In fact, that approach made the “fun” things less fun because it was the expectation all the time.

Instead, I eventually found realistic, manageable practices that I could maintain and did not drain me as a teacher (while still being fun and exciting). For example, I had a Friday wheel spin that allowed students to be recognized and earn extra points for their team. I planned a content game or activity usually once a week, so it would be something more unexpected for the students and they appreciated it more. 

3) Work smarter, not harder 

If I was writing this a year ago, I would have encouraged teachers to work collaboratively to plan lessons or units and identify questions to ask during instruction. While I still want that, technology has allowed us to work smarter than ever before by using tools like ChatGPT, ReadCube Papers, and Education Copilot to help us design differentiated lessons and units or come up with higher order questions. 

This type of technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we teach and instead of running from it or grumbling about how the world has changed, let’s embrace its intelligence and leverage it to help us become better teachers. 

Please note: using this technology does not become a replacement for collaborative planning and thinking, but rather a starting point for discourse.

4) Strive to be student-centered

I have no doubt that if you got a nickel every time you heard “student-centered” in education circles, you would be rich. It’s a popular word, but still not one that I am convinced lives in our classrooms. 

In my travels across the country, I have heard time and time again about the desire to create student-centered classrooms, but I’ve seen little evidence of it taking place. As an educator, I know it is hard to release control, but student-centered should not be conflated with student-controlled.

An effective teacher knows how to make a classroom feel like the students are the central focus, allowing them to freely share thoughts and ideas while masterfully maintaining control. They do this through designing lessons that authorize discourse among students and allow the teacher to guide and facilitate without being in the spotlight. What emerges when done well is a classroom where all students feel included, diverse thoughts and points of view are respected, and engagement is high.

5) Stay hungry

I love when at an educator conference, a teacher will come up to me and share that they are entering their 30th or more year of teaching. When I ask about their motivation for coming to this conference, many of them answer that they love learning and making themselves better. I appreciate that hunger and I can tell that they bring that same passion and drive into the classroom, which inevitably carries over to the children.

That does not mean there aren’t hard days or days when I am sure they think about retiring, but while they are still employed and with their students, there is a fire that keeps them going strong. I know everyone’s “why” or motivation is unique to them, but whatever that is for you, use it to stay hungry this year and continue to push yourself to be as strong, as passionate, as awesome as you can be. 

I want to wish you the very best of luck this school year and hope that you make it the best one yet!

Adam Dovico

Adam Dovico is an Academic Director and Associate Professor of the Practice for the Wake Forest University School of Professional Studies Master’s in Curriculum & Instruction and Educational Leadership programs. He is a former teacher, curriculum facilitator, and principal for two decades. Adam has written three books and is an international keynote speaker and presenter. You can find him on social media @adamdovico or on his website  


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