When I tell you that the start of the year is all about R&R, you look at me like I have 12 heads and alien eyes. This chick must be crazy, you think. Rest and relaxation? Back to school is the craziest time of year. No, my sweet friends. That’s not the R&R I mean (although some self-care during this hectic time wouldn’t be the worst thing). I meant routines and reinforcement. The only goal in the start of the school year is to teach routines and become a reinforcer. That’s it. If you accomplish this seemingly small but immensely important task this month – your school year is going to rock. You will be able to tackle those assessments, handle taking data, and all that other great curriculum stuff with gusto later and it will go well. However if you jump the gun try to squeeze these in too early before you’ve dealt with routines and reinforcers you are going to have a long and rocky road ahead.
Make the Time to Teach Routines
Every morning when you wake up, your mantra is routines, routines, routines, routines. The goal right now is teaching your students how to follow their daily schedules, complete independent work, follow embedded schedules, and become independent in their day. This takes time. This takes practice, repetition, and lots of exposure. You need to provide error correction when a student completes a transition incorrectly. Use errorless learning to show your students the correct way to transition and then slowly fade those prompts. Provide lots of praise when students are independent. If you spend the time to teach this now, you will have the amazing luxury of focusing on your small group instruction more completely throughout the year because your students are independent at transitions.
Make You & Your Classroom Reinforcing.
The other goal for the start of the school year is establishing yourself and your classroom as a reinforcer. My mantra is “be a chocolate chip cookie.” You want your students to want to be around you. You want them to want to be in your classroom. If “time in” is amazing then “time out” can be an effective behavioral strategy. Being reinforcing doesn’t mean let your students do whatever they want. Now before you get ready to purchase stock in gummy bears and capri suns, hold on one second. Establishing yourself and your classroom doesn’t mean it’s a free for all party. It doesn’t mean let your students do whatever they want. It doesn’t mean give them the iPad all day. While some of our general education classrooms may absolutely love a day fill with unstructured, “do what you want” playtime – our kids hate it. And so do I. Think about how potentially challenging unstructured time can be. There are no clear rules. Expectations are not explained. There is no start or finish. If he is playing with blocks on the floor, can I play blocks on the table? Can I stand on the table? Can I throw blocks while standing on the table? Chaos can quickly ensue. It will be loud. It will be sensory overload. Our kids will not like it. So yes, we don’t want to jump with some heavy hitting academics on week 1 or 2 but we also don’t want a “let’s just hangout” plan either. You need a little bit from both worlds.