Back to School Tips

First Day of School Tips

I’m going into my 18th year of teaching, and I still have butterflies in my stomach at the thought of the first day of school. That healthy mix of nerves and excitement has me out of bed and up early that first day, excited to meet my students. When reflecting back on successful (and less successful) years, I discovered there were always a few things that made the school year a good one.

Tip 1: Visuals

I love a good visual. It makes directions, instructions, and communication more clear for everyone involved. However, visuals aren’t helpful to students if they are not at eye level. I teach Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade, which means my visuals are at about my hip throughout the classroom. This entering the classroom visual on my door is a great example. If it were up at my eye level, the students would hardly be able to see it. Also remember, visuals have to be taught. Model, model, model! Don’t throw in the towel just because the student doesn’t pick it up quickly. 

Tip 2: Have a Plan For Home/School Connection

My first few weeks of school are focused on routine, reinforcement, and relationships with the families I serve. We talk a lot about routine and reinforcement for students, but we rarely talk about the home/school connection. I work hard to make a connection with families by the first week. Before school starts I call the family and speak to the parents of my students. My school offers back to school night, however, I offer to meet my families in my classroom before that night so students can see the classroom and parents can ask questions in a one to one environment that isn’t overwhelming (back to school night can be a sensory overload for all involved!). I use SeeSaw to send pictures and videos of student progress and play throughout the day, and I call parents that first week and let them know how excited I am to have their student in my class and what I love about their child. In addition, I have a home/school communication book that goes back and forth between the family so parents know how the day was for their child (I use the Home/School Communication Pack from The Autism Helper!). Parents need to know you are invested in their child. I’m a firm believer that a positive home/school relationship will make your year a great one. I put everything we need to communicate with families in a communication station in my classroom. I have Leveled Daily Homework, Communication Books, and Home/School Folders all in one spot to make communicating easy.

Tip 3: Preference Assessments

I love a good preference assessment! Let’s figure out what our students prefer and what they enjoy right away. Don’t just rely on information that you’ve gathered from parents. While that’s a good place to start, remember preferences can change when the environment changes. Just think about it this way: my preferred item at home may be a glass of wine, while at school it’s a cup of coffee. It’s all about what the environment has to offer. The items I have in the classroom may be totally different from what is available at home and vice versa. Using the information you gather from parents as well as the items you have accessible in your classroom, run a preference assessment to help better understand the child’s preference in your classroom. Even simple observation of where a child goes and what they do in free time will give you better understanding.

Tip 4: Have Some Self Care Planned

There will be no shortage of work those first days of school, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Have a plan on when you will leave school and stick to it. Plan time to decompress, be it dinner out or a night in your pjs on the couch watching TV. You can’t think about school 24/7. Carve out time for you to be just you, not a teacher. Figure out your own preference and reinforcement and have it ready and waiting for you those first few days. Teaching is hard, so we need to be kind to ourselves.

Tip 5: Reflect On the Good

Build in five minutes after school each day to reflect on what went well and why it went well. It’s likely easy to know what went wrong, but do you know what went well? Can you figure out why it went well? If you do, chances are you can use the same strategies to change the rough spots in your day. I find that taking a dedicated moment of my day to focus on the good does wonders for my mindset. 

 

That first day will be a whirlwind. It’s always the fastest day of the school year for me. Within a few weeks you’ll be in a routine and your schedule will be ironed out and your whole team will be working together. Together you’ll make it the best year yet!

Jen Koenig
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