Many teachers hit the ground running the day after students head home for the summer to ensure that the next chapter with a whole new group of students is successful. Whether it’s attending workshops and classes, connecting with colleagues about curriculum and planning, or lots of thoughtful strategizing, the ins and outs of the classroom are never far out of reach, even when vacation mode is supposed to be in full swing. The to-do list for preparing for the arrival of a new group of students can seem endless, but there are three foundational elements for success that must be put into place before students arrive.
While activities, resources, and strategies are in a constant state of flux to keep students challenged and engaged, there are some elements that require more consistency. Focusing on the Big 3 allows this consistency to be in place before students arrive on that very first day. They are major building blocks for the foundation of a successful classroom, and they also offer students an understanding of how to navigate the year’s learning journey.
When it comes to grades and assessment, there are a lot of options and opinions. Many stakeholders are firmly set on the usage of a traditional point system because they find comfort in the familiar. Many others see a need for change to meet the needs of diverse learners and shift the focus of academia from rising to a point bar as opposed to a personal growth bar. Regardless of the side where educators find themselves, they need to stand behind it. It’s understood that many districts may dictate the usage of a particular system, but whatever is chosen, teachers must be able to easily communicate its intricacies with students, parents, administrators, etc.
Whether the classroom is one where grades are obsolete, only a limited amount of work is factored into a grade, or every aspect of learning is assigned a point value, everyone involved must understand the system chosen. Once a teacher has found the system that fits with their philosophy and meets district requirements, a reporting system should be chosen and/or an existing system may need to be tweaked to allow for reporting that aligns with the learning taking place. When teachers own the grading system and can easily share its merits and implementation, students will likely be more at ease in their endeavors. While it’s not impossible to change a grading system during the course of the school year, it will definitely be a more challenging undertaking if another system is already in place.
Students are always looking to educators for cues and limits. Many a frustration can come from the students that look to push those limits. That is why a classroom management system must be in place from the get go, and students must be aware of it. Students can’t be expected to follow expectations if they aren’t privy to them. Yes, there are some no brainers with personal space, language, etc., but many other management issues can vary from teacher to teacher. The consequences and enforcement of said issues can also vary, and this is where problems can arise.
Much like owning the intricacies of a grading system, teaches must also own their classroom management systems. That means that once an exception is made, those ever watchful eyes will take note and their respect of the teacher and policies may begin to waiver. Teachers must be consistent and clear when communicating and implementing a system. Whether a list of expectations is compiled, a visual and/or verbal system is constructed, and/or a unique classroom policy is generated during the first days, it needs to be set firmly in place and followed. When and if exceptions and/or adjustment are made, they must always be clearly communicated to leave all members of the learning community feeling secure and valued. With an understanding and mutual respect for the ins and outs of the classroom, students are likely to feel more comfortable and confident in their endeavors within it.
Students are going to find a sense of comfort within a semblance of order. A well thought out design will be one that includes the ability to easily shift the layout within the learning space, but there needs to be a plan in place for achieving this fluid movement. There should also be some consistency within areas found throughout the classroom. Some zones may go untouched like a classroom library, student cubby area, supply center, etc. Other areas can take on a more multi-purpose function with specific guidelines for usage. These may include learning centers, device zones, small group spaces, etc. The layout of the classroom can and should change to meet the needs presented by different learning opportunities and styles, but an evolving environment does not have to be a chaotic one. Students need to respect the learning space to maximize their use of it. With a clear understanding of the function of the design, they can do so.
The behind-the-scenes work that goes into preparing for a new school year is immense. Taking the time to develop the Big 3 is an investment that needs to be made. With the foundational structure in place, teachers will be able to keep their focus on the content and instructional design that will allow students to maximize their success.