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Your Back to School Goals [episode 19]


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Morning Message: 

[00:55] What are you reading right now?

Summer is a great time to catch up on all the books you’ve been meaning to read, but never got to during the busy school year. Our summer reading list right now is Essentialism, The Six Shifts, and Rivals

A few weeks ago we did an episode, Episode 16, that provided a big list of educational books to read over the summer. On that list was The Six Shifts, which a lot of our listeners are reading! Others are reading Hello Molly, Wild Card, Slay, No Such Thing as a Bad Kid, The Knowledge Gap, and One Italian Summer

Whether you’re reading for educational purposes or just for fun to escape a little, we’re glad you’re getting it in and having some “you” time!

We’d love to hear your responses to this question and future questions, so let us know over on Instagram!

Here’s an overview of episode 19:

With it being the beginning of July, a lot of teachers are starting to think about going back to school and preparing for the first few weeks of school. It’s so fun to look for cute back to school activities. While they’ may be fun and allow you to get to know your new students, we want to challenge you to think about why you’re choosing the activities you choose. This requires you to think about your goals for the school year. In today’s episode, we’re sharing how to set up your back to school goals for a successful first few weeks of school.

Having set your back to school goals will help you align your activities and provide a fun and purposeful way to teach your students procedures or show you their academic abilities. Let’s remember that the purpose of beginning of the year goals is to establish the solid foundation necessary to build a successful year, which can ultimately start on the first day of school. 

Additionally, we’ve come up with an acronym that encompasses all we want to accomplish: ATTA BOY. This acronym stands for affirming, training, teaching, and assessing at the beginning of the year. Implementing this framework can help you decide what is the most important in any area of planning that you need to do at the start of the school year. 

    Throughout the episode, we break down each area in ATTA BOY, what that looks like in your classroom, questions to ask yourself on the first days and weeks of school relating to each area, and activities to try with your students involving each area. 

    As a result, we challenge you to think about why you’re selecting a certain back to school activity, rather than what the activity does, in hopes to have them better align with your back to school goals. By implementing the ATTA BOY framework, it will guide your back to school goals and will help set your students up for a more successful school year right when they step into your classroom.

    In this episode on your back to school goals, we discuss:

    • A breakdown of what each word in ATTA BOY stands for and means in our classroom
    • Questions to ask yourself for the first day and week of the school year when it comes to your goals
    • Why setting back to school goals is essential to the establishment and success of your classroom 
    • An introduction to our Back to School Mini-Course

    This week’s teacher approved tip:

    [18:21] Teach games for your kids to play at recess.

    Teachers hate when they have to deal with problems that arise during recess, so this tip will help avoid the hassle and prevent them from happening in the first place! We know that problems arise from two areas: kids don’t know what to do OR they do know what they want to do but not everyone agrees on the rules.

    Our solution is to teach games to your kids during class for them to play at recess! This will add to the menu of choices they can play, it’s easy for anyone to join in, and it sets a clear set of rules and expectations that everyone can agree on. 

    To make this more fun, each teacher in the grade could come up with a game to teach. Then rotate classes until each class has learned the game. If you really love this idea, get your whole school involved! This adds to the menu of options your students can play at recess!

    What we’re giving extra credit to this week:

    [20:55] Heidi is giving extra credit to Loop Earplugs

    [21:31] Emily is giving extra credit to Little Snowie Max


    If you enjoyed this episode, you’ll love these too:

    Read the transcript for episode 19, Your Back to School Goals:

    Hey there. Thanks for joining us today. In today’s episode, we’re discussing beginning of the year goals. And we’ll share a teacher approved tip for helping students succeed at recess. We start our episodes with a morning message just like we used to do at morning meeting in our classrooms. This week’s morning message is what are you reading right now? Heidi, what are you reading? I am finally reading Essentialism by Greg McEwan. I love Essentialism. Yeah. It’s actually my bookclubs book for last month. So I’m right on schedule. How about you Emily? What are you reading? I’m reading well, for fun. I’m reading Rivals, which is the third book in the American Royal series. I’m reading that too. I just started. It’s total fluff. But I love it. And I’m also finally reading The Six Shifts now that Heidi’s done with the book. Good. Well, we have a lot to talk about. We talked a lot about summer reading in a recent episode of this podcast and so it’s been fun to hear what you’re reading right now. Lots of you are reading the six shifts like I am Beth Shannon, Jackie, Shelley, Christina, and Christie. Also they’re reading. You can start a book. I know we should have done a book club. Nicole is reading the Knowledge Gap by Natalie Wexler. Ms. Hanson is reading Hello Molly, an autobiography by Molly Shannon of SNL fame. Love it. That’s good. Michelle is reading The Wildcard. Marcela is reading Slay by Brittany Morris. Oh, that sounds intense. And Cindy is reading There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Kid by Titus O’Neil. And Tiffany is reading One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle. Oh, I wish we were having an Italian. We’d love to hear what you’re reading over on Instagram. You can find us at @2ndstorywindow. And that’s what the two.

    For an upcoming episode, we’re collecting the very best back to school tips from the most amazing teachers we know: you! To share your tips send us an email at [email protected] with the subject line Back to School Tip. Or even better, leave us a voice memo so we can share your awesome tips straight from you. Head to

    Choosing your Back to School activities can be so much fun. There are all sorts of creative ideas you’ll see on social media and Pinterest this time of year. But what activities you choose aren’t actually what’s important. What is important is why you select the activities that you do. So you have to start with your goals for the beginning of the school year. And then make sure that the activities you select support your goals. We came up with an acronym to help us remember our beginning of the school year goals. That acronym is ATTA BOY. And it stands for affirming, training, teaching, assessing at the beginning of the year. Now we’re not suggesting that your students are puppies in need of training, even if that’s how it feels sometimes. But we found that this is a handy acronym for helping us remember what our goals are.

    So the first A in ATTA is affirming. Here’s what an objective of affirming students looks like to us. It means intentionally creating a peaceful classroom space, that safe and welcoming to students. It’s looking for opportunities to give students ownership and choice. It’s striving to recognize each student as a unique and valuable individual in our classroom community where their contributions are recognized. It’s providing time for fun and community building activities. But that’s not all. Affirming also looks like setting clear expectations. So students know the boundaries and limits of our classroom community. It means establishing a clear and predictable routine. Those might not be the things that come immediately to your mind when you think of affirming. But we would argue that they’re just as important if not more important than the other plans for affirming. The reason clear expectations and boundaries are important is because they help students know how to behave. A student who doesn’t know what behavior is expected of them will often act out in search of what the boundaries are. Once they know what the expectations are in our space, they can feel more comfortable and secure. And that’s true for a predictable routine as well. I don’t know about you, but when I walk into a brand new environment, I’m often uneasy when I don’t know what to expect there. On the other hand when I go into a situation where the routines are predictable, I am immediately at ease. We don’t want our kids coming into school every day wondering what their classroom life will look like. Our goal is for them to feel completely secure knowing that the day will follow predictable routines that they can always count on.

    The first T in ATTA BOY stands for training. This means that ahead of time, I have a clear picture of how I want things to run in my class, and I plan to explicitly teach how I want things done. Having a goal of training means dedicating a significant amount of time at the beginning of the year to teach procedures and routines. We talked about establishing efficient procedures and routines in the last episode, so make sure you give that episode a listen if you haven’t yet. Training also means giving feedback and praise as well as support to students as they undertake learning procedures. It’s making sure that students are aware ahead of time of the consequences of their choices.

    The second T in ATTA BOY is for the actual teaching I’ll be doing. At the beginning of the year teaching means reviewing content from the previous year, building reading stamina, easing into teaching this year’s content. We’re also teaching when we introduce the learning routines that we’ll be using all year, so they can do them more efficiently the rest of the time. Teaching is also making plans to transition from review to new content.

    And the last A in ATTA BOY is for assessing. Assessing looks like making informal observational assessments of academic and social strengths and struggles. It means monitoring how well students are able to meet expectations. And of course, there’s some formal assessment that needs to happen at the beginning of the year too, to get a benchmark for literacy and math skills, then that information is used to group students for small group support. And we also want to be sure to establish any needed interventions as early as possible in the year.

    These four areas are critical to the success of the whole school year. So I really consider what achieving those goals would look like. Then I choose the specific activities that I know will meet them. For example, one of the things on my to do list for the first week is to post some sort of display out in the hallway. Now there are approximately 8 billion fun craft activities on Pinterest that I could choose from. But these first days are precious, and I don’t want to fill time with an activity that’s not enhancing my larger aims. So I look at my goals, and what needs do I need to meet. For me, I decided to focus on affirming by recognizing my students as individuals. So I plan for my class to do some kind of all about me activity that we could hang in the hall. But that doesn’t make this the only right option. I could have looked at my goals for training and wanted something that would provide me with the opportunity to introduce scissors and glue. In that case, I might have picked a cut and paste type craft. I could have chosen teaching or assessing and decided I wanted to do some sort of math based art project that reviews first grade math concepts. Any of those choices not only meets the goal of getting something in the hallway, but it also supports my deeper goals of shaping my classroom environment. The key is to think about what you need to accomplish in the first days of school, and then choose activities that help you meet your higher ATTA BOY goals. The activities you choose are less important than your reasons for choosing them. You won’t get these first few days back, so be intentional in how you feel them. The purpose with ATTA BOY goals is to establish the solid foundation necessary to build a successful year. In May I want my class to function as a community of learners who are respectful to each other, independent workers, and creative thinkers. That means I need to lay the foundation for that from the very beginning.

    We’re going to take a look at how you can use affirming, training, teaching and assessing to inform your plans. We’ll share what each of those areas looks like on the first day of school during the first weeks of school, and how they work to launch you into your best year yet. So let’s start with affirming. To set my goals for affirming on the first day of school. I start with asking myself, How do I want my students to feel on the first day of school? My answer to that would be I want my students to feel safe and welcomed. I want them to feel they have a recognized place and ownership in the classroom. Then I would plan to meet that goal in a few ways. Before school even starts, I’m going to make sure that my students see their names posted around the room and on the door when they arrive to meet the teacher and on the first day of school. Then when they get there, they instantly know I’m in the right place. There’s a spot saved here for me. I plan our first day of school to include time for each student to be welcomed and introduced to the group. I make sure that nothing we do on the first day when those nerves are running high will make anyone feel like they’re on the spot or singled out negatively. I purposely create a calm welcoming atmosphere. The stakes are low and the nurturing is high on that first day. To set my goals for affirming in the first week of school, I start with asking myself, How do I want my students to feel during the first week of school? My answer to that would be, I want my students to feel a sense of classroom community, and have a place to safely express their individuality. I want them to feel they have ownership and accountability. Then I would use that goal to plan activities for the first week. For me that looks like including my kids in generating the class rules. It means we start learning the basic procedures for morning meeting, I make sure to plan the first week to include lots of activities that will build our sense of community.

    To plan my training goals for the first day of school, I asked myself, What would I like my students to be able to do by the end of the first day? I want to begin the process of making my students as independent as possible. So my training on the first day focuses on helping them learn how to efficiently get what they need, and get where they need to be. Basically, the first day is broken up into a pattern of teacher procedure, do an activity, teacher procedure do an activity, yeah, to break up all the talking, so no one is getting burned out. During the course of the first day, we cover our most important procedures like how to come to the rug, how to line up, how to walk in the hall. All those fun things they’ll need to be able to do to be successful in our class. If you listen to our episode about classroom procedures and routines, we shared exactly how we teach procedures using the Tell Try Tally method. You can find this in Episode 18. Besides the procedures for how to do things on the first day, I introduced guidelines for how to manage materials. I start with our two most frequently used tools, crayons and pencils. I introduced these using a method called Guided Discovery. And we will have a full episode about Guided Discovery in just a couple of weeks. But the short version is that I take the time during the first weeks of school to establish clear expectations and procedures around each of the school tools we use on a regular basis. And maybe that sounds a little boring, but we promise it’s actually a lot of fun.

    Now it’s time to plan for training in the first weeks of school. I ask myself, What would I like my students to be able to do by the end of the first week? And my answer is I want students to understand how to be successful during each part of the day. Our class will settle into a predictable rhythm after the first couple of weeks. I’m using these early days to teach the steps in our routines. It’s math time. So this is where you need to go. It’s spelling time here are the materials you need. Everyday they’re getting a clear understanding of what to expect and how to function independently in our space. Throughout the first week, I continue introducing the materials we use: scissors, glue, stapler markers, all of the fun things. I make a formal introduction for each tool because I just want to prevent future problems. Besides classroom routines during the first week, I make a point to teach routines that relate to the school, lunch procedures, fire drills going to and from an assembly, lining up for the bus and any other necessary procedures.

    Emily, tell us about planning for teaching. Yeah, so to plan for teaching on the first day of school, I asked myself, How can I help my students today to be successful with the learning tasks we will be doing all year? My answer is I will start by teaching my students how to do the first most important daily learning tasks that we do each day. Morning work. On the first day, we actually do morning work in the afternoon after I’ve taught them how to manage pencils. I teach them where their books are kept. And we work through the first page as a class. I teach them step by step how to complete their morning work. Why do I introduce morning work on the very first day? Because I want them to be independent with this task right away and be able to come in the door tomorrow and know exactly what to do. And of course, I’ll be there to help them if they can’t quite remember on the first few days. We’re taking our first little baby steps toward independent learners. Then I plan for teaching in the first week of school by asking myself how can I use the time in this first week to begin some meaningful teaching instead of just filling time. My goal for that is I will teach my students how to do the important learning tasks we will do all year. That means getting them accustomed to the flow of a normal school day. In the first week I make sure to introduce the academic routines we’ll do every week, word sorting, vocabulary, independent reading, etc. I also spend a couple days introducing math manipulatives before we dive into our first unit.

    Now it’s time to plan for some assessment on the first day of school. I asked myself What would I like to know a little more about my students by the end of the first day? My goal is to get a picture of where students are academically and socially. For the most part, on the first day of school, we’re basically just affirming and training. But I’m also doing some very, very informal assessment of the kids. I’m taking a look at how they’re doing socially, when they interact with their peers. I’m also looking at any work they’re producing to start to form a picture of how they’re doing academically. Again, all of this is very informal. The activities I choose for the first day are intentionally low key, definitely nothing academically challenging. So if I spot someone struggling to complete one of these activities, I know right away that I need to watch that child a little closer. Maybe it’s just first day nerves. Maybe it’s a deeper problem, I might not know right away. But this helps me to start to dial into the kids in my class. Then I need to plan for assessment in the first week of school. I asked what’s the most important assessment information I’d like to get about my students right away? My goal is to begin to get a picture of where students are academically and socially. I plan time to give reading benchmarks and spelling assessments. I work into math assessments to for any academic content, in the first week, I focus on reviewing first grade material. This allows me to quickly assess where they’re at on those first grade topics. To get an idea of how my students function socially, I go out for recess for the first few days, even if I’m not on recess duty. And yes, it does feel like it’s gonna say that’s a big sacrifice. It is. But I really feel like it pays off and giving me the information I need to know how well things are going on the playground. Like can everyone follow the rules? Does everyone have someone to play with? And after that, I start to back off a little unless I need to monitor a certain situation.

    So how do you apply this idea to areas we didn’t cover? The ATTA BOY framework can help you decide what is most important in any area of planning you need to do at the start of the new school year. Start by thinking about the outcome you want in that particular area. Then consider what part of the ATTA BOY framework might best apply to the situation: affirming, training, teaching or assessing. Remember, in a lot of these cases, there’s no right or wrong answer. Then with one of those areas in mind, decide how best to specifically meet your goal. Using the ATTA BOY framework will help you keep what’s most important in mind while you plan out the nitty gritty of the first weeks of your new school year.

    Are you ready to have the most successful and stress free back to school season ever? We’re here to help with our free back to school mini course. In this three day private podcast, we will help you plan for success in establishing your perfect classroom procedures and routines. We’re passionate about helping teachers elevate what matters and simplify the rest. And we know this mini course will help you do just that. To sign up, head to

    Now let’s talk about this week’s teacher approved tip. Each week, we leave you with a small actionable tip that you can apply in your classroom today. This week’s teacher approved tip is teach games for your kids to play at recess. Heidi tell us about this. So I imagine every teacher hates having to deal with problems that arise during recess. It’s just such a time suck. The best way to avoid that hassle is to prevent problems from happening in the first place. Right. Most of the recess issues arise from two areas either kids don’t know what to do, so they default to tag or goofing around. And that quickly escalates into causing problems, or they do know what they want to do. But not everyone agrees on the rules, so that escalates into a fight. The best way to address both of these problems is to teach your class a few games. By teaching the game to everyone you’re adding to the menu of choices available to kids during recess. Plus, you’re setting up a clear set of rules. Maybe Tanner learned to play Foursquare differently. But here we are all agreeing to follow this particular set of rules. I always made sure to include a couple of tag games when I taught my class because second graders love tag. And it always ends badly not so true. This is where the common rules come in handy. If someone says they tagged you, you’re tagged, even if you didn’t feel it. That rule right there probably saves us from dealing with 75% of recess. You can do this with just your own class or you can get your team involved. Each teacher could choose a recess game or activity to teach. And then you could spend a week rotating through classes to teach each game and we actually did this whole school. Each grade level chose a certain number of activities to teach the lower grades made sure to cover things like Foursquare and jump rope and tag In the upper grades took actual sports like soccer and kickball and basketball. And then we compiled our versions of the games so that our school had an unofficial rulebook. You don’t have to go to that scale, especially if your school isn’t on board. But if you are tired of wasting time solving recess problems, definitely prevent those problems from starting by teaching recess rules, just like you do any other part of the day. And I love how it helps kids who may be struggling to think of what to do at recess, when they have a bank of ideas that can pick from and they know that everybody else already knows how to play those games, too. And it also makes it easy for anyone to join in if if they’re playing a game they already know. There’s less of an issue of I don’t know how to play that game, so I can’t play with them. Yes, I love that solve all the problems by teaching recess.

    To wrap up the show, we’re sharing what we’re giving extra credit to this week. Heidi, what are you giving extra credit to this wee? I am giving extra credit to loop earplugs that I got to use last night. They’re earplugs that allow in some noise, which is kind of what I want. So we live in an area that’s super windy, annoyingly windy. And it can make it really hard to sleep. But I don’t want to have like a total sound blackout. So these are perfect. They just kind of take the edge off and allow me to be able to sleep or if you know I was trying to work I could just block out some sound and focus but without being totally cut off from what’s going on around you. So loop earplugs. Those sound handy. What about you Emily? Really giving extra credit to? I’m giving extra credit to The Little Snowie Max. This is a snow cone machine that lets you use regular ice from your freezer to make snow cones at home. It works really well and my kids are obsessed with it. It’s been such a fun thing to have on hand in the summer after we get back from the pool or when all the neighbor kids are over playing in our yard. It’s not cheap, but the quality is amazing. And the kids are excited about it. They asked all the time. Yes they do.

    That’s it for today’s episode, use ATTA BOY to help you remember important goals at the beginning of the year. And don’t forget today’s teacher approved tip for helping students be successful at recess. Thank you for listening.

    More About Teacher Approved:

    Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to be the kind of teacher you really want to be? The Teacher Approved podcast is here to help you learn how to elevate what matters and simplify the rest. Join co-hosts Emily and Heidi of Second Story Window each week as they share research-based and teacher-approved strategies you can count on to make your teaching more efficient and effective than ever before. 

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