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Top 12 Ways to Start the School Year Off Right

Kim Haynes

TopAs you gear up for the new school year, you have a chance for fresh positive start that will motive students and get you, your students and their parents working together from day one.


Whether you want to inspire your students, encourage reading, reach out to parents, or form a better bond with your students, check out these innovative ideas.


Inspire Your Students

Share Words of Wisdom

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Using quotations is an easy way to inspire students and make them think. So right now, while you still have some “free” time, start making a list of quotes you like. There are many searchable quote websites out there – try Quoteland, BrainyQuote, The Quote Garden, and The Quotations Page for general topics, or do a specific search for the subject you’re looking for, like “quotes about hard work.”


Integrate Quotes into Your Curriculum

Once you’ve got the quotes, you can use them in many different ways.

  • - Begin each class or each day with a quote.
  • - Ask students to copy it down to improve their penmanship.
  • - Use it as a writing prompt.
  • - Start a new unit with a discussion about one or more quotes on the subject.
  • - Looking to integrate quotes and decorate your classroom at the same time? Why not try a quote wall – especially good for decoration around the board. Make a list of quotes and print them out on colorful paper. Then cut them up and post them on the wall. You can choose quotes to fit each book you will read in a year, quotes on different character traits you want students to develop, or just quotes you like. You can refer to them when you’re teaching, and students will constantly see inspiring words.

Encourage Reading

We all know that students don’t read enough anymore, but often teachers feel like it’s just one more thing they’ll never get around to doing. So try one of these approaches:


Build in Time for “Bonus Reading”

At the beginning of the year, explain the guidelines: every student should bring something to read with them at all times. It can be a magazine, a book, or a comic book, as long as the content is appropriate for school and they are interested in reading it. If they want to read Sports Illustrated or Playstation: The Magazine, that’s fine. You may also wish to provide a few books in a “classroom library” for the inevitable unprepared student.

Then, periodically announce “bonus reading time.” Instruct the students to read whatever they brought with them, and give a “bonus point” to every student who is prepared. Even if you use this approach once a week, the bonus points won’t affect their overall grades significantly, but it gives them two reasons to be more enthusiastic about reading. It can also be a great way to fill a few minutes when you are dealing with an unexpected crisis and have a room full of students with “nothing to do.”


Start a Book Club

Feeling ambitious? Start a book club that includes your students’ parents. Accept that it will be a small club – many parents won’t be able to participate because of other activities – but tell them about it at the start of the year. Many parents find it appealing; it gives them additional time with their child and can also give them time to work with their child on reading skills.

You can have them read additional books that might supplement what’s being taught in class, or you can even have them read through the class novel together, which gives the students a chance to stay up to date on their homework. Book club questions should be more open-ended, without a single right answer, but the club discussions can be a good place to start students thinking about topics you plan to address in class.


Try Literature Circles

There are many different ways to operate a literature circle “program.” The basic idea is that students form small groups and each group chooses a book to read. They read and discuss the book in those groups, like a mini-book club.

Literature circles are intended to supplement the reading curriculum, not replace it, but they can be a powerful tool to improve student appreciation of reading, and they can work with any age group. Visit the Literature Circles Resource Center or try Web English Teacher or Read Write Think for more information and suggestions.

Connect with Students’ Parents

Ah, parents. If handled properly, they are a great asset. If not handled properly, they can be the bane of a teacher’s existence. But when you spend your whole day dealing with the kids, it’s hard to get up the energy to handle the parents, beyond the necessary calls home for grade or behavior issues. This year, set a goal of increasing communication with parents about good things.


Learn About Students Through Parents

Get the year off to a good start by inviting parents to tell you about their child. Send a letter home on the first day of school, inviting parents to write back to you and to share anything they would like you to know about their child or their family. Provide some prompts or questions to help them get started.

Parents may wish to brag about their child’s previous achievements, inform you of a personal situation in the family, or share tips about how to manage their child’s particular quirks. You will probably not get a letter back from every parent, but many of them like to take this opportunity to brag about their child or be honest with you about potential challenges ahead.


Make Brag Calls Home

Make it a point to do “brag calls” or “brag emails.” Often we only talk to parents when something is going wrong. Teachers’ poet Taylor Mali describes a brag call this way:


I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:

I hope I haven't called at a bad time,

I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.

Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"

And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.


I make parents see their children for who they are

and what they can be.   -Taylor Mali, “What Teachers Make


What more powerful way to improve relationships with parents? Try to schedule one in at least once a week, and aim to make the calls about the “average” kids, rather than the overachievers.


Have Students Report to Parents

Start a “parent” section of your student’s notebook or binder. At least once a week, have students write a short note, telling parents what they did in class this week and how well they think they behaved. Supplement this with a short typed note sharing general information – upcoming tests, field trips, etc.


Also, every week choose a few students and write handwritten notes about the students’ good achievements during the week. If you choose different students every week, you can provide positive feedback to the whole class at least a few times each semester. Instruct students to take it home, share it with their parents, get the parents to sign it, and bring it back.


Parents can also write you a note back if they wish. This is a simple approach to improving communication with the important adults in your students’ lives. Note: this works better with younger students and with less tech-savvy parents. If you have techno-whiz parents and you teach high school, you can accomplish a similar thing via email.


Build Better Relationship with Students

We want our students to like us – not in that awkward “you’re my friend so you shouldn’t discipline me” way, but let’s face it, we’d all rather teach a roomful of students who aren’t antagonistic. Sometimes, though, our relationship with our students gets sandwiched between grading papers, prepping for tests, and planning for the next lesson. So here are some easy ways to build a better relationship this year.


Plan Daily Personal Interactions

Choose a time of day when you will personally interact with every child. Some teachers like to greet students at the door when the day begins; others say “goodbye” to each one as he/she leaves. Whether you choose one of those approaches or make up your own, you send a message to students when you speak to each individual one of them every day.


Use Strategic Seating

Use your seating chart to help you be aware of how often you speak to each student and what you say. Make several copies of the seating chart and keep it in front of you as you teach. Put a mark by each child’s name when you speak to him or her, and if possible, mark whether you made a positive comment, a negative comment, or a neutral one. Do this every day for a week or so, then look at the results.

You may notice a few common patterns: you speak to the same few kids and “ignore” the rest of the class, you are almost always positive with some students and consistently negative with others. Once you’re aware of your personal patterns, consider how you might want to change them. Can you make an effort to call on the kids you rarely speak to? And what do you think your problem student might do if you found something to compliment him/her on?


Create Classroom Photo Albums

Bring a camera into the classroom. Add a disposable camera to your class supply list, or allow students to occasionally bring out their cell phones to use those cameras. Or buy an inexpensive digital camera and leave it in a designated spot.

Encourage students to use the camera to catch special moments – a project they are proud of, the mess left over after a particular art activity, or a rainbow seen outside the classroom window. At the end of the year, get the photos printed and share them with the class or use them to make a class memory book.


Take Interest in Their Lives Outside Your Classroom

Pay attention to the rest of your students’ lives – take notes if you have to. What music group did you hear them talking about as they lined up for recess? Did their sports team win a big game recently? Did another teacher talk about their good work in a different class? We often hear these things, but how often do we use them? Make it a point to give a compliment to one student every day, or to ask a student a question about something that matters to them (not, what’s 12 x 12 or name the capital of Zaire). You might be surprised at the results.


What strategies are you using to start the year off right? Share in the comments section!

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