Ready or not, your students came!
Whew! You made it! If your first week of school is behind you, CONGRATS! Those first few days are tough. If you’ve been following along with The Autism Helper’s Podcast, you know the summer series focused on classroom setup. High-fives for getting your classroom set up and running. That alone is no easy feat! I’m sure your to-do list is still a mile long (at least mine is), but while you work on crossing items off your list those first few weeks, now’s the time to start figuring out what to do next.
Focus On What’s Working
It’s super easy to focus on what’s not working. Take a minute to focus on what IS working. Then, reflect on why it’s working and how you can repeat it in areas that are not working. We are so ridiculously busy and overwhelmed by the needs of our students that reflection is often thought of as something we can skip over when planning. I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. If you really want to see your classroom transform, reflection is necessary. Take the time to do it. You’ll grow in reflection, too, and get better with it with time. If your calendar time is working flawlessly but centers are a hot mess (my classroom currently) figure out how you can incorporate what’s working in calendar time into your centers. Reflection doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming, either. Reflection can be as simple as putting a smiley face or star next to a lesson that worked. Then, at the end of the week, review what worked. Find trends and focus on the good! I created a reflection journal for myself that meets what I find to be helpful to reflect on each week. Don’t be afraid to do the same and make something for your classroom. Use whatever works! Sticky notes attached to your planner, stars or smiley faces next to lesson plans, or a separate reflection journal like me – reflection is personal, so do what works for you!
Schedule Time to Observe
Part of catching what’s going well is observation. Even two minutes of interactions between staff and students can be enlightening. Find 5 minutes each day at random times and pick a student or staff member to observe. Mix it up, don’t observe a student or staff member at the same time each day or doing the same task unless you are focusing a specific behavior or time period. Make notes, of what’s working and what isn’t. Look for ways you can better support students and staff. Are physical needs met? Is the space working? Is staff using the visuals you spent all summer prepping fluently and correctly or do they need more practice? When you finish observing, take 20 seconds and praise your staff or student for something you saw that was great. Build those relationships!
In my first week of observation, I found that we are going to need our phones (for communication via text/call if a school radio isn’t available), gloves, wipes, sensory fidgets, and reinforcers on hand at all time. I bought everyone in my classroom fanny packs to carry everything and have it at our fingertips. I sent my staff to amazon and had them pick one out, any color or style they liked! If they are going to wear it, they might as well like it! One of my girls picked out a glittery silver fanny pack and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Start a Wishlist
As you think, “I could really use____” throughout the day, write it down and create a wishlist. Once you’ve gathered a few items, get creative about fulfilling that wishlist. Donors Choose, the new TPT ClassFund, and the #ClearTheList movement are just a few thoughts on how to get the word out about what your classroom needs. My go-to is an Amazon Wish List because it’s easy and if I’m real with y’all, I live and breathe by Amazon Prime (if you need ideas on what to add, mine is here). I find if I tell others how I’m going to use the item, it’s more likely to be fulfilled. Dream big. You never know who will step up to help you out. I always add big items and small items so it’s obtainable for most anyone, regardless of financial position, to help our classroom out. A $0.50 pack of crayons is a gift that I appreciate!
You’ll find that when people ask you what you do, they often say things like “wow, I could never do that!” or “It takes a special person to do your job” (TRUTH!). When those comments come, I’m always ready with this response: “Thanks, but I really rely on support from people like you to make my classroom successful. If you are ever interested in helping us out with supplies, let me know. Even a few dollars goes a long way in my classroom, and my students and I will be forever grateful”. Don’t forget: When donors help you out, be sure to thank them! There is nothing better than a handwritten note or drawing from a kiddo to warm your heart. Pictures of the items in use is a huge hit, too (follow privacy policies before sharing). You’ll find over time, there are a handful of people who will provide support over and over because of your gratitude.
Schedule Self Care
If you allow it to, school will consume you. A burnt out teacher isn’t good for the classroom or your sanity. This job is time demanding as well as physically and mentally draining. Schedule time just for yourself. Set clear boundaries and limits for school work. Make goals and put them into place or you’ll find self care slips. Self care doesn’t have to be expensive, either. While I’m all about pedis and massages, healthy boundaries count as self care, too. One goal I have this year is to not look at my phone for emails or texts before I shower and have coffee each morning. Whatever it is can wait those 30 minutes while I mentally prepare and enjoy the only quiet time I’ll likely have all day between school and my own kiddos. I’ve found a best friend in the ‘do not disturb’ button on my iPhone. It’s amazing what that does each day for my mindset walking into school. Time for yourself isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.
Attitude Really Is Everything
My hope for you is that you are off to an amazing school year…. the best year yet! If things aren’t going well or you don’t know where to start, it’s ok! It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed. Take a deep breath, schedule some self care, and find what’s working in your classroom. It’s OK to cry, it’s OK to laugh, and it’s OK to ask for help. Reach out. Ask others for advice. Build a support system. You’ll find that your “teacher tribe” is necessary to success. A few years ago I had a realllllllly tough start to the school year. The kind of start to the year where you cry every day and don’t even know where to start. Some of my favorite people showed up at my doorstep and delivered ice cream, wine, and hugs. I couldn’t do this job without support. If you are having a great year, be a support to someone who needs it. This year, I hope to be the one delivering the ice cream and wine! Keep your attitude positive and go into every day knowing you are doing the best you can. No matter how your year started, you can make it a great one! Together, we’ve got this! We’ll make it the best year yet!