By Shelly Schuckers
Starting the school year off always presents a challenge of priorities. Whether you are a brand new teacher wanting to have the perfect bulletin boards while scavenging the “free tables” for supplies, the veteran teacher wanting to be the first to get their copies made, or the veteran new-hire wanting to figure out their role in their new team, the need for more time is the first bond that brings you together. Everything feels rushed until you are sitting in the annual staff meeting going over the handbook of procedures…then time seems to stop as you contemplate the best place to go to lunch. Good times.
Take a deep breath. Inhale the scent of freshly sharpened pencils and recycled air. The year isn’t made or lost in the first few days…however, how you start will impact your sanity. Give yourself permission to take your time. Those of us that spent part of the summer drooling over the Food Network might understand this better as the “mise en place” which simply means having everything ready before your start. Get to know your people…your curriculum…your building. Dig through and unpack your shelves. Organize yourself now because once those kids show up, there will not be time. This is the time to prep more than your lessons…you need to prep your life.
There are two important segments to your school year prep…the “before student” and “just kids” contract hours. I am offering a few suggestions that will assist you in your literacy success as well as the general fluidity of your school year. I am well aware that this list is not all-inclusive, however, it is my sincere hope that it helps you and your team. The “before student” (I will refer to this time as BS) time is probably the most crucial for anyone using a new literacy curriculum or philosophy. This is what our building did this year under the guidance of our school designer and administrator. I did tweak some of the curriculum specific items but overall this is the process our grade level teams used to reflect on our curriculum.
- How well do you and your team understand your curriculum?
- Does each team member have the materials they need?
- Can each teammate access the resources from last year?
- Does each team member have a basic understanding of the materials?
- What supports do new teachers need from returning staff?
- How does the literacy curriculum fit in with the rest of your day?
- Can the literacy be flexible to other content (science, social studies, math…)
- Are there any pieces/parts to the unit(s) that we are NOT going to teach?
- What do your assessments look like?
- Is everyone clear on student outcomes?
- How is the data used? How is it collected?
- What outside assessments are there? (DIBELS, NWEA, iReady, etc)
- How is your team going to maintain consistency?
- Short Assignments
- Criteria lists
- How can you design your instruction for the best outcomes(backwards design)?
- Are we all clear on where we are going with this unit? (grading, outcomes, planning, etc)
- How are we going to differentiate? (ELL, SPED, Gifted, etc)
Reference: Beginning of year agenda from our principal and school designer at Bea Underwood Elementary 2018.
Now, once all the BS is in place it is crucial that students are also given time to become familiar with your expectations. This is the “just kids” (referred to as JK) part of your preparations. Most students are new to you and you are new to them. All they know of you is your name and maybe the gossip from some former students. All you know of them is their names and maybe the gossip from former teachers. Just like your curriculum, your need to figure each other out. Before quality literacy (really any learning) can happen you need to turn those 24 individuals into a crew that work under that same flag. It is truly just about the kids.
There are two excellent resources that I have used to help this become a sanity-saving reality. The first is called Teach To’s by Rick Dahlgren. It is filled with basic behavior expectations from the mundane (how to line up) to the critical (fire drills). No matter how wonderful your lesson plans are, if students don’t know the fundamental routines within and outside of your classroom, you will find yourself doing damage control in the form of discipline and lesson interruptions. Taking the JK time to go ov
er and practice these simple routines will free up the rest of your year to quality, uninterrupted instruction.
The second resource is specific to your literacy block. I lived by this book when I was in the classroom. It showed me that it is not how quickly you get to small groups and instruction but how e
ffective it can be when the students know what they are supposed to do. This book is The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy in the Elementary Grades by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser The “sisters” simply introduce each independen
t activity with purpose and rigor. Students are expected to build stamina and celebrated when they succeed. Like the Teach To‘s book, the expectations are laid out with the students so that they not only understand the teacher’s expectations but they also have ownership of their learning. Even if you do not use the “daily five” within your literacy
block the idea of laying out the steps and expectations for your students will all but guarantee successful literacy lessons, especially when the students are doing independent work.
There are several blogs and resources on the “go slow to go fast” philosophy. If you would like to dig deeper into this way of thinking one book is Go Slow to Go Fast by Damian Pitts. There are also several blogs that advise of the benefits of slowing down in the beginning.
So, this year, my wish for you and your team is that you can “go slow to go fast.” Give yourselves permission to take the time to perfect the small things. Build relationships with your colleagues and students. Enjoy each other. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the year.
Shelly Schuckers, president of Tall Timbers, has been working for Bea Underwood Elementary for 21 years in a variety of positions including kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, ½ multiage, ⅔ multiage, 4th grade, art teacher, literacy coach, reading interventionist and ELL interventionist. Currently she is the art teacher as well as assisting with reading/ELL intervention. Shelly and her husband are busy adapting to their new roles of Army parents/empty nesters in Parachute, Colorado with their pack of dogs.