During the last two weeks of August, teachers around the country will be setting up their classrooms, attending meetings and meeting with parents and students. This is a time of anticipation, excitement for the upcoming school year, skimming through new books, and reviewing curriculum and class rosters.
Meetings dominate the week before students enter school. During this time first year teachers and teachers new to a district are flooded with information they need for the opening week of school and the rest of the school year. Know that most information you hear and read will not stick because you need to “do” and use information to recall it and understand it’s significance. My advice is to partner with an experienced teacher on your grade level team or in your department and meet frequently during the first month and weekly during the rest of the year to make sure you learn school and teacher routines such as where daily attendance goes, and you meet deadlines such as interim grades and reports, Having a peer partner can reduce stress, anxiety, and frustration, and minimize the mistakes you’re bound to make. It’s also helpful to have someone to talk to about your feelings, to ask questions about procedures and lessons, and to observe so you build your mental model of managing a class of students and engaging and motivating them in their learning.
What follows are some suggestions in key areas that you will need to address before, during, and after opening meetings.
Lesson Planning: One key to successful lesson planning is to ask yourself, “How is this material relevant to students’ lives? Why are we studying this?” Considering these questions will enable you to explain the relevance of a lesson to students who will question topics that don’t resonate with their lives.
In addition, planning lessons using the three-part model below will help you create a class environment where students are active-learners and you are the facilitator. Remember, in a 45-minute class period, limit teacher talk to about 12 to 14 minutes.
Lesson Plan Template
- Goals: state one or two goals you hope to achieve during this class.
- List what students will do: read, write, pair-share, collaborate with a group, work on a computer or I-Pad, work on a project, complete research on the Internet, blog, post edits on a class wiki, confer with a peer or the teacher, etc.
- Make the “do” list specific to your content. For example, in English, I might have this in my plans: partners choose a short story to read and discuss pinpointing what causes changes and growth in characters. The more specific, the easier it will be to involve students because you know exactly what you want them to do.
- Assessment: think of one or two assessments. Observing students and taking observational notes as well as asking students to self-evaluate are helpful assessments because you gain insights into students’ process.
Reliable Resources for Sample Lesson Plans, Book Suggestions, and Support
The most reliable resource for lesson plans comes from IRA and NCTE:
Lessons posted take 30 to 45 minutes. Besides lessons you’ll find useful information on Standards, Web Resources, and Student Materials.
In addition you’ll want to investigate and join teacher and author, Jim Burke’s ning, “English Companion.” Go to http://englishcompanion.ning.com/. You’ll find all kinds of groups you can join from The Common Core State Standards to Writing, Reading, and Effective Classroom Discussion. On this site, experienced teachers will answer your questions and provide you with the support you crave and need.
Organizing Your Room
How you organize your room says so much about your teaching style. Avoid seating students in rows as this isolates them and works against the fact that students are social, they’re expert talkers, and they enjoy collaborating. I can offer two options:
- organize desks in groups of four to six; or
- organize desks into two half circles so that students have a partner to pair-share with on either side of their desk.
You’ll also need a small table in a quiet corner where you can confer with students and students can confer with one another. I like to designate an area for silent or very quiet work. There will be students who require quiet to focus on their writing, reading, research, or project while others discuss in pairs or small groups.
I like to have a stack of oversized pillows that students sit on during sustained silent reading. Stacking them conserves floor space and students love having a comfortable pillow to sit on and read.
Place your small desk in a corner of the room so the floor space is available for students. You’ll only sit at your desk during a planning period. When students are with you, make the rounds—circulate among them—to observe, listen, and learn from their talk and body language.
Setting Up Book Displays
Let your room shout, “Reading is great!”
- Feature an author or genre each month.
- Place new additions to your class library that students can easily access: on a windowsill or on top of a bookcase.
- Display books under the chalkboard.
- Pull one to three books from each bookshelf and place these with the cover facing out so students can see them.
- List websites for e-books near your class computers. You might suggest specific titles for students to read online
- Find a magazine rack and display copies that appeal to your students.
Whether students read e-books and e-magazines or traditional print books, encourage them to read thirty to fifty books and magazines each year for independent reading. The research of Richard Allington and Stephen Krashen shows that the more independent reading students complete, the greater their achievement and progress. Independent reading is in addition to instructional reading and should be easy and enjoyable: 99% to 100% reading accuracy.
Learning About the Common Core Teaching Standards
Here are two excellent books published by Heinemann that can help you understanding the common core standards and figure out ways to implement them in your classroom.
With your grade level team or department, choose a book that will best support the grade and subjects you teach. Form a teachers as readers of professional materials group and discuss the book, chapter by chapter. Include how what you are learning will affect your teaching practices.
- The Common Core Lesson Book, K-5: Working With Increasingly Difficult Complex Literature, Informational Texts, and Foundational Reading Skills by Gretchen Owocki, Heinemann, 2012
- Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman, Heinemann, 2012
You can also investigate common core resources that the International Reading Association has made available by going to this website:
Additional Professional Resources To Study
Work with a colleague or several colleagues and decide on a book to read and discuss. You can find discussion guides for Heinemann (www.heinemann.com) and Scholastic books (www.Scholastic.com) on their websites.
- Teaching Reading in Middle School: A Strategic Approach to Teaching Reading that Improves Comprehension and Thinking, 2nd edition by Laura Robb, Scholastic, 2010.
- What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs, 3rd edition, by Richard L. Allington, Allyn & Bacon, 2011.
- What’s the Big Idea? Question Driven Units to Motivate Reading, Writing, and Thinking by Jim Burke, Heinemann, 2010.
The Principal’s Corner
I urge you to walk the path of what I consider to be effective leadership. On this path, you’ll communicate your vision and call for consensus building on academic and personnel issues. You’ll build trust between you and other administrators and among staff, along with the commitment to a vision and goals that all school community members develop.
Making That First Faculty Meeting Top-Notch
Planning the agenda and your remarks for the first faculty meeting can set the tone for the opening weeks of school. Part of my planning and thinking about this all-important meeting includes gathering suggestions and advice from my assistants and setting aside time to anticipate questions the staff might pose. Then I prepare responses. In addition, I keep paper on my desk so I can jot down ideas that I can include in my opening remarks to staff.
Plan the Agenda
Discuss the meeting with your assistants. Set aside time to meet with them and your deans to figure out questions the staff might ask during the meeting. A discussion with your administrative team can generate questions such as those listed below. Prior to the first faculty meeting, these discussions can help the new and veteran administrator feel comfortable about responding to questions. Here are some questions that repeatedly crop up:
- What is our meeting schedule for the year?
- How are we doing duties? Can we have a duty-free lunch?
- Will I have to hand in lesson plans? To whom?
- Do you conduct announced and unannounced observations?
- Where do students who don’t have schedules report the first day?
Three Tips for Success at your First Meeting
- Make your opening speech a winner by not reading it and keeping it short. Instead jot down notes on one index card and chat about the summer, your vision for the school year, and the kinds of support you’ve put in place for teachers and students.
- Weave in other key speakers from team or department members to your secretary and guidance counselors or the school nurse.
- End on an upbeat note and make sure you can tell teachers you’ve set aside a great deal of unscheduled time so they can work in their classrooms and meet with colleagues.
Evan Robb, Principal Johnson Williams Middle School and author of: The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook, Scholastic, 2007.