Sharpen those pencils, folks. A new school year is upon us.

What that means for every teacher may be a little different, but one thing remains the same: among those crisp spiral notebooks, sparkly new folders and updated wardrobes is a group of young minds prepared to learn. Right? Wrong.

Most teachers know the distractions of the preceding summer months don’t just disappear when students pile into their classrooms on the first day of school. There were family vacations and there was time at the local pool and playground dates with friends, etc. There were parades and celebrations and all kinds of time to hang out or play sports or whatever it is kids do in their free time these days.

The same can be said for teachers, who spend their summers on any number of things themselves. From continuing education and second jobs to volunteer work and family vacations of their own, teachers are busy throughout the summer as well.

Despite everyone’s best intentions, that can make the return to normalcy a bit challenging for all parties involved. The good news is that getting back to learning doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you (and your students) return to normalcy this school year:

Take it Easy

There is quite a bit to learn from students who take a gap year between high school and college. While the concept isn’t new, it has gained momentum in recent years. And for good reason as many experts are saying it’s helping to empower and educate young people with real world experience and knowledge they need to make more informed choices about their future.

Teachers who take a similar approach to summer break may benefit from easing back into the classroom after a couple months of being away. Just as there are meetings to review from the past year, there will also be meetings to plan for the year ahead. Embrace these meetings as an opportunity to brainstorm with, learn from, and share experiences with fellow teachers who are in the same boat. Engage your resource network to come up with new ideas you may not have considered.

Try to avoid assigning tests in the first couple of weeks and remember that translates to things being easier on yourself too.

While there are benefits to hitting the ground running, teachers know that an entire school year is not defined by the first couple of weeks. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so do yourself a favor, take it easy!

Learn from What Worked (And What Didn’t)

Experience is one of the most valuable tools a teacher has in their player’s handbook. Chances are you invested time and energy reviewing the prior year a mere few months ago. Use that information to prepare for the upcoming year.

If you followed an end-of-year checklist, grab it and revisit even the most basic things about what happened in May or June that could spark insight for things to try this year.

The same can be said for what didn’t go so well last year. Taking the bad with the good doesn’t have to be a negative experience as you start the new year. In a time when more people are likely to focus emotional energy on what went wrong instead of what went right, it’s never been more important to turn that experience into a valuable insight to use in your classroom.

Great teachers know new approaches are necessary, but flexibility is key. Research cites the ability to network and brainstorm with peers as one of the traits of exceptional teachers exude, but also features compassion and the ability to make learning fun.

Fresh out of ideas? Consider exploring an online marketplace like Wisewire, which offers hundreds of free apps, activities, lesson plans and other helpful resources for pre-k through higher education students.

Get (And Stay) Organized

A helpful list of back to school tips for teachers compiled by the Association of American Educators includes a number of suggestions for how to tackle the fall jitters.

A common theme among the ideas is organization. Their research suggests having a firm plan in place from the start, as it pertains to discipline, routines and classroom procedures. But that is only the first step in the process.

Take the time to create or update a folder for a substitute teacher, compile your first few weeks of lesson plans, and mentally regroup at the start and end of each new day so that you can stay on track throughout the year.

Teaching.Com adds its own take on tricks for teachers to stay organized (including having a folder system in place that works for your needs).

Plan Some Fun

Explore some fun ways to break the ice and start creating new, fun memories to build upon throughout the school year.  This is a beautiful way to ease a bit of everyone’s anxiety.

Research conducted by the Society For the Teaching of Psychology supports the use of icebreakers to help build community in the classroom.

Consider trying one of these with the students in your classroom:

  • Playing Favorites: On the board or on a worksheet, create sentence frames that ask students to identify their favorites, such as their favorite color, food, animal, sport, instrument, movie, song, book, singer, athlete, place, etc. Have students share their responses in small groups.
  • A Little Alliteration: Distribute construction paper, scissors, markers, crayons or colored pencils, and dictionaries. Tell students to choose a word that describes them that also starts with the same letter as their first name (e.g. “Courageous Carly”; “Affable Ahmad”), using a dictionary to help them as needed. Have students create and decorate paper letters of their first initial based on their chosen words. Invite students to present their letters and words to the class, explaining their choices.
  • Fact or Fiction: Have students write down two facts and one piece of fiction about themselves. Invite students to share their sentences; then, allow classmates to guess which pieces of information are true and which is untrue.

Work With Parents

Finding ways to work together with the parents of students in your classroom is an essential step in the right direction for a new year as well. It is a topic that even merits its own subhead in the National Education Association’s Back to School Guide, which features dozens of resources and tricks for teachers to contemplate as they prepare for the year to come.

Parents are your greatest allies, with the power and capability to set the stage for each day ahead. Engage with them early on and collaborate as necessary to bring the classroom experience full circle for your students.

Are those pencils sharpened yet?

The new school year is almost here, but with the right resources, experience and mindset in place, we know you’ll make it the best one yet.

What are your tips and tricks for heading back to school? Share them with us in the comments below!

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