Starting your year the right way saves lots of headaches down the line - find out our Ten Top Tips to managing your classroom!
Starting your school year can be just as anxiety-inducing for a teacher as it is for the kids, especially if you’re new to the job. Are my lesson plans going to work? How will I manage behaviour? Do I have all the resources that I need?
You’re not alone at all. I was constantly worried for my first 3 years in teaching and I don’t think anything would have made me less worried. But here are some helpful tips to serve as a checklist and help you get past at least some of the most common anxieties that we face on that first day!
1. Teacher’s Pet Creature
Managing a classroom means you need to catch their attention right from the beginning. Not an easy task when you have a class full of excited children. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use Your Teacher’s Pet Creature, a storybook and plush toy combo that helps you set classroom guidelines.
Introduce behaviour management techniques in a calm, clear way through the use of a story that will captivate your students and teach them what behaviours you (and Your Teacher’s Pet Creature!) expect over the coming year.
As well as helping you to deliver the guidelines, Your Teacher’s Pet Creature can also serve as your eyes and ears. When you need to look away from the children, the Creature will watch over them and make sure that they are following the rules for you.
And why not turn Your Teacher’s Pet Creature into a reward as well as a warden? Excellent work deserves excellent rewards and you can offer the plush toy to students who show positive behaviours and work hard in your class.
Now you’ve turned the difficulty “getting to know you” lesson into a sneak peek of the rewards that students will receive for working together and working hard.
2. Get Your House In Order
You control the way your classroom looks and how it is set up. Understanding different classroom layouts and when they’re useful will give you an upper hand on classroom management and delivering brilliant lessons.
But it doesn’t stop at table arrangements - useful wall displays, helpful resources, and tidy organisation make your classroom a better place to learn. Anything that your students can refer to throughout their lesson time to improve their work and understanding is useful!
Wall displays can be especially time-consuming, but using examples of work and helpful posters can give your students a boost. Providing resources that students can refer to helps them frame their understanding and develop their own ideas without having to ask you. Save your own time and encourage independence with high-quality displays.
It’s hard in the beginning (and even harder if you share a classroom), but getting your planning, classroom, and resources organised will give you the best start before your children even come into class.
3. Share The Journey With Your Students
Have you ever been in a meeting and realised that you have no idea where it’s going after half an hour? Maybe you just weren’t paying attention, but it might also be that no objectives were shared, this is particualry relevant in the days of online learning and distance learning.
Think about how kids feel throughout the entire year, where different topics seem to appear out of nowhere. When one term is done, all the topics can change without seemingly any reason. Sharing your plans can help them create links and understand how subjects link together.
Show the students where you are going with your schemes of work. You could give them a handout that explains which topics you’re going to cover, what comes after them, and a reason why.
Teaching isn’t just you sharing your wisdom for the kids to receive - it’s a journey you make with your children every day. Share the goal that you are all aiming for to help them make sense of their learning.
4. Create A Class Goal
As an extension of sharing the journey, ask your students to dream big. They know what topics you are all going to be covering this year now, so why not ask them to create their own goals?
This doesn’t even need to be a big goal - maybe they will make a short presentation or a poster that we can use on a display wall that will explain the topics to next year’s class. Maybe they’ll make a class video, breaking down the different topics into breaking news updates for Mr. / Ms X’s News Channel. Let them breathe creativity into it!
5. Make Your Behaviour Policy Clear
“Don’t smile until Christmas”. One of the first pieces of advice I ever received. You want to rule the classroom and make sure that the children understand that you’re the boss, not their friend.
While it’s not bad advice to remember that you’re not friends with the students, this mantra is outdated and creates a confrontational and difficult classroom environment. If you are stony-faced, your students won’t find it easy to build a relationship and feel comfortable (which is more likely to lead to challenging behaviour in the future).
Make your behaviour policy clear to the children in your first session together. If your new students can’t explain what is good behaviour and what is not, you need to go over it again. The best way to stamp this in is to create a class charter about “what makes Mr. / Ms. X’s classroom safe” in addition to Your Teacher’s Pet Creature.
As a team (teacher, teaching assistants, and students), make a list of rules that everyone must follow. Including your students in this process makes them think about why they follow the rules instead of only understanding what the rules are.
6. Build Links With Parents
Getting parents onside is key to making the most out of a child’s education. From as simple as a little conversation over the dinner table to sitting down to work on big projects together, parent involvement improves retention, understanding, and engagement.
If you have a chance to talk with parents face to face on the first day, network a little. Make conversation and ask about getting in contact in the near future. The parents might be just as nervous as the children! Making them feel comfortable can help just as much as easing the children into the year.
After that point, make sure that you send out emails or make phone calls at regular intervals. It doesn’t need to be every week, but keeping parents in the loop and sharing their child’s successes can build a relationship quickly.
This can be especially useful if you ever have to deal with challenging behaviour in the future. If you have developed a good relationship with a parent, you are more likely to be able to discuss challenges without setting off alarm bells and making them feel uncomfortable.
7. Build Routines
In the short to medium term, you need to build your routines. Children find comfort in rituals and knowing what they will be doing each day, especially if you are teaching children with additional educational needs. Routine is the best classroom management tool you can have.
You know what you’ll be teaching in the future, so why not share it with your students? Creating a large version of your timetable is an easy way for students to know what to expect and it means that students will know exactly what will happen and when.
You can even make this part of your first session. If your students have a planner, you can give out a small copy of the timetable that they can keep. Simple activities like colour coding the lessons can encourage your children to engage and understand their week too.
Build a routine by sharing plans and changes to those plans well in advance. If you use a large wall planner, you can even spend a little time every day making sure that students know what to bring tomorrow and what to expect in the near future.
8. Play Introduction Games
You’re an adult in a classroom of children and you feel nervous. Imagine what it’s like in their shoes; meeting someone for the first time and having to listen to everything they say for fear of getting told off (not that it’s true, but it’s a common worry for children).
Just like how we break the ice with other adults, we need to break the ice with our students. The best way to do this is by playing games and asking students to share something about themselves. Doubling this up with physical activity can get the whole class engaged and get them introduced to each other as well as to you.
Ask your class to stand in a circle. Holding a small ball, tell the class your favourite film. Then throw the ball to a child and ask them to do the same. Then let them decide who goes next. This breaks the ice, let’s the children learn something about everyone in the class, and encourages shy students to share. Then you can repeat it with any category you think is appropriate.
Teamwork from the beginning sets the tone that your class will all be working in the same direction this year. Allowing your students to socialize as they work creates bonds that will help you manage the classroom and create scaffolds for them to succeed.
9. Team Building Exercises
Depending on where you teach, this might be the first time the students have met each other. Even after we have broken the ice, encouraging teamwork in a classroom can be slowed down by students who don’t feel comfortable.
Turn your classroom from a room of students to a team driving in the same direction by testing their teamwork abilities and developing their social skills. These don’t need to be complicated either. A complex jigsaw can keep some high ability students busy and teach them to communicate effectively.
Other, more exciting ideas could be using arts and crafts to encourage them to share ideas and to listen attentively. I’ve always liked “construct a special building out of these boxes”, but anything creative works. Asking them to think outside the box will allow them to express themselves and develop skills independent of you.
Team building isn’t just for wasting time in the afternoon - students should have clear goals that develop their team working skills in the classroom. Learning is a collaborative process
10. Build Relationships With Your Fellow Teachers
Remember that you’re not alone in this. Other teachers in the school will be going through similar steps to get their year started well, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as nervous (and maybe even feeling unprepared!) as you.
Sometimes you won’t know the answers. That’s fine. Sometimes senior teachers won’t know either, but they have more experience to fall back on. Learning through making mistakes and experience can be a difficult process, so why not ask for a few pointers?
Even when you’re in a more senior position, you may find that working with younger staff gives you access to a range of ideas that you hadn’t thought of before. There’s always something new to learn (a useful lesson for you and your students!)
Collaboration will make your year easier, whether that’s from collecting activity ideas or finding out how they manage classrooms effectively.
The first days of a new school year are some of the hardest ones that you will have to navigate over the course of a year. Our 10 easy steps will help you build up your own confidence, routines, and general classroom management to make it as easy as possible.
The most important part of any successful classroom is creating a culture of growth, learning and fun. You don’t need to be a comedian every day, but engaging your students with exciting and interesting tasks will help all this hard work pay off.
Remember that you’re not alone - almost every teacher goes through the same worries as you. Building a new routine can be exhausting, especially if you had only just perfected it with your last class! Rely on your fellow teachers, searching for and giving advice when you can.