Across the U.S., an estimated 3.2 million teachers are preparing to go back to school.
Last year was marked by many challenges brought on by COVID-19, and while more students are planning to attend school in-person, teachers will likely still face pandemic-related hurdles. As the delta variant continues to take hold, mask mandates and contact tracing are becoming part of everyday conversations in schools.
Even in normal years, teachers have a long to-do list to welcome students back to the classroom. In an effort to help educators prepare, here are five tips teachers can use to get the school year started on the right foot:
1. Get students reacquainted with learning alongside peers
The pandemic turned the education system upside down, forcing many teachers to juggle both in-person classes and virtual classes. During the pandemic, 65% of households with children used online learning at some point during the school year.
As more students return to the classroom this year, helping them get reacquainted with learning alongside their peers – instead of through a computer screen – could be a challenge.
One of the best ways to help students remember how to work alongside each other is through group activities. Teachers have always relied on group activities to build SEL skills. Whether students work together on a mural-sized collage for their classroom or on a ready-made STEAM project, giving students the opportunity to work alongside each other has a host of benefits, including:
- Improved communication skills
- The ability to talk through problems
- Exchanging ideas and learning new perspectives
- Taking a complex process and breaking it into smaller, more digestible pieces
If you’re struggling to come up with group activities, check out this great list of team-building activities, try turning some of these fun science experiments into small group activities, or try a ready-made STEAM course in your classroom.
2. Establish routines from the start
Routines are the backbone of classrooms. Why? Experienced teachers will tell you that routines help set expectations, and when kids know what’s expected of them they’re more engaged and well-behaved.
From day one, teachers should communicate what they expect and show kids how to do it. For instance, when kids walk to the Media Center each morning, what does that process look like? Will kids line up at the door? Will they be called up in groups? Will they walk single-file in the hallway? Talk to children about the process, get them involved in the conversation, and show them what a trip to the Media Center looks like.
Here’s a quick list of routines to consider for your classroom:
- Arrival process
- Calendar review
- Homework turn in process
- How to move from one room to another
- What recess looks like
- What lunchtime looks like
- Bathroom procedures
- Clean up procedures when an activity is complete
- Signals for attention
- Dismissal process
3. Get students involved
Teachers work hard to follow curriculum and create assignments that foster learning, but it’s a good idea to ask students for their input too. What do they want to learn? What are they hoping to do during this school year? Consider having a classroom discussion about assignments and projects, or if students are older, have them fill out a questionnaire.
As you talk with students, you’ll likely notice that many are interested in hands-on activities. As it turns out, these kinds of activities fall into a highly effective method of learning known as active learning. When students are able to work together on a project, research shows they retain more than they would if the teacher did the same lesson as a lecture.
Utilizing a STEAM Course, for example, might be an easy way to have access to lesson packs and group projects that utilize active thinking and caters to diverse learners.
4. Create a community of leaders
Teachers shouldn’t be afraid to lean on parents for help. Of course, some teachers might feel a bit burnt out on parent interactions after coordinating virtual school with dozens of moms and dads last year, but research still shows student achievement is at its best when parents are involved.
Think of ways to get parents involved in the classroom that go beyond chaperoning a field trip.
Parents could come in for storytime, mentor students, or give career talks. Parental involvement can align with your curriculum. For example, if your computer science class is working on coding skills, consider inviting a parent into the classroom who uses this skill at their job.
5. Lean on ready-made learning tools
Let’s face it, teachers get very little prep time. In some school districts, prep time is non-existent or as little as 15 minutes a day. While many teachers spend their own time preparing projects and planning assignments, there are some ready-made lessons and learning tools that might ease some of the burden. Resources include:
- Audubon for Kids: Nature activities, videos, and games.
- Arts Edge: Art-centered activities that are sponsored by the Kennedy Center.
- CommonLit: Free collection of reading passages for grades 3-12.
- Jumpstart: Free teaching materials like lesson plans and worksheets.
- Teachers Pay Teachers: Online marketplace for education resources.
- SAM Labs: Innovative STEAM and coding courses that come with lesson plans, slides, handouts, and ready-made projects.
This year, teachers will work to create a nurturing learning environment in their classroom while still balancing the effects of COVID-19. It will likely take some time to adapt, but by using these five tips above teachers will set a solid foundation from day one.
Lisa McEwen is an award-winning writer and journalist with a passion for writing about education. She has written for large universities like Harvard and DeVry University, as well as dynamic educational startups like SAM Labs.