Starting a new school year involves careful planning. During that first week of school there are expectations that need to be set, routines practiced, pre-assessments completed, and building a classroom learning environment where everyone feels safe and accepted.
This year is going to prove to be unique, as some students will be going back to a face-to-face traditional classroom and others will start out virtually. Regardless of where learning takes place, there are several items that need to be taken care of to ensure everyone is off on a successful journey.
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Building Classroom Culture
Building a classroom culture of success begins with all students accepting each others differences and how these differences have a positive impact on learning. Welcoming students to school with some read-alouds that help students learn how to accept differences and others’ perspectives is a great way to ease into the year with purpose. Building a culture of acceptance is essential. Below I have a recording of one of my favorite books that I use to accomplish this goal.
NOTE: For my face-to-face students, we normally gather together on the carpet; however, in my COVID lessons, students remain at their seat. Adjusting instructional proceduresis going to be a task we all endure. I also publish this recording in my Google Classroom for my virtual learners to view with a learning discussion on ZOOM.
When building a positive classroom culture, I use purposeful read-alouds on a daily basis. During these read-alouds, I also include opportunities to teach reading and writing skills. Here are a few of my other favorite texts to use. Of course, for my virtual learners, I post a recording for students to view and/or read the book during our ZOOM class gatherings. Remember to click the YouTube “subscribe” button, so you have immediate access to additional recordings of my favorite books and lessons.
Social Emotional Learning
One thing we know that won’t change in classrooms this fall is the importance of developing relationships with students and building a cohesive classroom learning community. Besides dealing with COVID-19, students have experienced first hand or perhaps viewed on television the ethnicity and racial challenges of this past summer. Depending upon where you live and the experiences your students come to school with, there will be a high need for extensive social-emotional lessons.
Planning lessons that incorporate opportunities for students to engage in conversations about summer events, challenges students faced, and opportunities to know that we are starting fresh, even though we know there is a health pandemic are going to be important conversations to help students overcome trauma. Getting the kids to talk about these topics brings opportunities to journal. I always use a read-aloud as a spring board. Oftentimes through these read-alouds, students see they are not the only one with similar stories to share. This is a great opportunity to build a social emotional classroom culture that uses trauma sensitive instructional skills and strategies.
See my post for a lesson as I engage learners in developing a caring classroom during the first two weeks of school. I have also included some additional read-alouds that promote opportunities for building a classroom culture that focuses on acceptance.
One thing we know for sure is that whether you are teaching face-to-face or online, teaching digital citizenship skills is going to be essential. I take time to teach specific technology lessons to ensure that students understand how to use the internet as a tool and how technology can support learning. I love this book, The Technology Tail, as a resource to use at the beginning of the year. When we moved to online instruction this past spring, I made sure to revisit this text, so students had a nice reminder about using technology. I’ve included a YouTube recording of the story that I used for my students, along with some additional “technology” children’s books for learning about navigating technology appropriately.
Remember to click the YouTube “subscribe” button, so you have immediate access to additional recordings of my favorite books and lessons.
Another idea to keep in mind is lesson planning with a face-to-face and distance learning option in mind. Since we know this year is going to be different, educators who are planning face-to-face lessons need to be ready to pivot their lessons to online at a moments notice. This will be a bit easier now compared to this past spring. Here are a few tips that I have to assist this transition from face-to-face to remote learning.
*Plan lessons to be online and then adapt these lessons to face-to-face classrooms. You’ll thank me later.
*Practice teaching online during the face-to-face school day. This will set the students up for success when they move to distance learning.
*Take the time to teach students how to access online learning platforms such as Google Classroom. Spend time posting information here for students to access throughout the day to complete assignments.
*Personalize learning via technology from the beginning for a great way to meet the diversified needs of each student. Check out my list of online technology resourcesthat you can use to support your students’ individual needs.
Communicating with Family
Finally, it is important to provide parent support while they are trying to navigate this education world. Whether parents choose to send their child to face-to-face classrooms or elect for online classrooms, some level of support will be needed. We know this past spring most parents went from helping their child with learning to being the person in charge of providing the learning. Teachers became facilitators to some extent while feverishly providing learning opportunities on learning platforms like ZOOM and Google Meet. This was stressful for all.
Fortunately, there was a lot of learning that occurred for all during our first round of “crisis learning”. Keeping parents updated on lessons, providing opportunities for students to learn material via ZOOM meetings or video tutorials were all helpful to lower the stress level for parents and students. When the stress is low, we know that students will be more successful.
Establishing a face-to-face learning culture that can pivot on demand is going to be the challenge this school year. Using these tips and resources that I have shared will assist in your goal to have a successful year for students, parents, and teachers.
Annette has been an educator for 27 years working in the elementary classroom, district leadership, university professor, as well as a mentor for teachers nationwide. A National Board Certificated Teacher, Annette focuses her research on accelerating learning and advancing achievement, personalizing instruction, technology, and leadership in the education field.
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