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Your Best Back to School Tips [episode 23]


Click below to listen to your best back to school tips:

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Morning Message: 

[00:54] What is your best back to school tip?

We got so many amazing responses from our community, that we decided to do an entire episode on this very topic!

Here's an overview of episode 23:

With school just around the corner for many of you, that back to school feeling is getting closer and closer. We all strive to be the best teacher versions of ourselves when school begins and start off on the right foot. In order to do that, we thought we’d seek advice from experts in the classroom: YOU! In today’s episode, we’re sharing the best back to school tips from you, our listeners! 

We had an overwhelming amount of responses from teachers all over giving their favorite or best back to school tips. With so many responses, we split them up into four categories: organization, planning, self care or teacher care, and building relationships. 

Throughout the episode, you get to hear tips from various teachers from all over and who teach a variety of grades. One thing we found that was so great about this episode was that different advice works best for different teachers. We realize that not everyone works the same way as someone else, so we encourage you to listen to all of the back to school tips and find the ones that work best for your teaching style and philosophy. 

We thoroughly enjoyed this episode because it was driven and inspired by YOU, our listeners and community! They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe it takes a village to be the best teacher you can be. We’re so happy you’re a part of our village and were able to share or take in the best back to school tips!

In this episode on back to school tips, we discuss:

  • The four categories of back to school tips straight from our community
  • How each tip is student-driven, for our student are the most important when thinking about heading back to school
  • Why teachers put an emphasis on establishing procedures, routines, and expectations with their students
  • Finding the advice that works best for you and your teaching style and philosophy

This week's teacher approved tip:

This week’s teacher approved tip was all of YOUR responses provided in this episode on having the best back to school advice!

What we're giving extra credit to this week:

[19:58] Heidi is giving extra credit to The Greedy Peasant

[21:03] Emily is giving extra credit to Laurie and Emily, my two best friends and roommates from college


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Read the transcript for episode 23, Your Best Back to School Tips:

Hey there, thanks for joining us today. In today's episode, we're sharing the best back to school tips shared from you, our listeners. 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 is your best back to school tip? We asked our community this question and got so many amazing responses that we're going to dedicate this entire episode to sharing those tips.

We've organized these back to school tips from our community into a few categories. So let's start with first one organization. Heidi, do you want to give us a first tip, I'm actually going to show the first two. So first off from Laura, we have, “Focus on getting your space set up first, that will clear the clutter in your mind. So you can focus on planning.” And then Karen M says, “Most teachers are using the copier and laminator at the last minute. And that's when those things break down or are empty of supplies as we've already Yes. When you start back, hit those things first and then worry about your classroom arrangement while the others are fighting for the copier.” So I like that those are both really valid points and are completely opposite advice. Yeah, you have to figure out which one of these rings most true for you and the way that you work. I do think that Karen is giving a very good point though that you might want to think about how busy the copy room might be. You can put the desks up at anytime but you can only use the laminator when it works right. Camille says, “The younger the students the more need for organization and routine. It takes time well before the kids arrived for the teacher to visualize the classroom, purchase materials, label items etc. All that effort gives the kids and their parents a sense of order and security when they arrive.” Oh I so agree with this. We want them to walk in and feel like oh this is a calm safe space to be in. I appreciate that Camille points out like how much work that is because it's so often undervalue that invisible work of like making this a nurturing place. It takes a lot of effort. It does. It's so much work. Shreeka says, “It's okay not to have a Pinterest ready classroom. Even though it looks like I do based on appearances. I have lots of Monica Geller cupboards next to Pinterest Perfect cupboards. We're all hot mess Express. We got this!” That's very relatable Thank you Shreeka, I for sure had some Monica Geller cupboards, and I've got that in my kitchen too. Okay, now we've got a tip from Laurie. And this one is an audio tip. So let's listen to it.

“Hi, teacher friends, this is Laurie, my favorite teacher tip is to start on my bulletin board and give myself a certain amount of time, maybe one or two days to get all that up and do as much as I can to get everything prepared in my room and ready for the either open house or the meet the teacher. But I try not to stress myself out because I just have to know that my kids won't know if it's not ready and actually keeping a lot of things off the wall and letting their work display on the wall is one of my other favorite tips.”

I love that she gives herself a timeline so she doesn't get sucked into like making it perfect. Like whatever I can get then in this day or in two days is as good as it's gonna be. And then she just hold yourself to that standard. It's like that phrase work expands to fit the time allotted. So however much time you give it is how long it's gonna take. Yeah, absolutely. And I loved her point about leaving empty bulletin boards for your students work to go on. I liked doing that too. It gives kids such ownership to see their names and their work up as private place on the walls. Absolutely. Next Jamie said, “Stay as organized as possible. Each day slash week it gets a little harder to do; create a system that works for you, so you stay organized with lessons, copies, grades, supplies, etc. Check off list of what I need to do each week really helped me to stay on top and ahead of things.” And that is so true that as the year goes on, you start to lose control but if you set up a good system to start it will pay off. And Cheryl said, “I might have gotten this one from you. And we did cover this Cheryl, but we didn't make it up. Create an extra set of all supplies, books, folders, notebooks, birthday chart, name tags etc, and then put together for students. So when you have a new student come mid year, you just pull out the pack and you're ready to go.” And Brittany had the same idea. She says, “As I'm setting up my classroom, I make new student baggies that I keep in my cupboard. When I have a new student, I can easily grab the baggie and most everything they need is right there. Currently in my new student baggie, I have a box of crayons, whiteboard, Expo marker, folders to match our subjects, a sharpened pencil, reading placement, test, dibbles and maze, a name tag and a lanyard for their ID. I made six of these baggies last year and I used every single one.” That is so smart to put the assessment tests in there because I didn't think of that. And it's always scrambling to find the forms you need. Yes, I loved that idea. And six new students in a year is a lot so good evidence that you should make more than you think you'll need.

Our next category that we're gonna talk about are tips for planning. And Carrie says, “I make sure that the kids do some real meaningful work on the first day of school. It might be reading from our classroom library or math activities, exploration or even creating a new friend out of two pipe cleaners, to name and introduce to the class. Kids deserve to have a sense of accomplishment on that first day, not just assessments.” I love that tip. Yes, AR said, “Got this from Harry Wong's classroom management book, make a first day script. This was so helpful to me because I wrote down each activity timeframe, and procedures rules to teach on the first day.” And we feel very strongly about this tip as well. In fact, we have a whole episode about this. So you can listen to that episode all about the first day of school, it's an episode 22. Several of you shared great tips for establishing routines and procedures. Christie said, “Establish routines and procedures early with lots of modeling. Set high yet attainable expectations for students. Have fun with your students and smile.” Carrie says, “I choose a few classroom routines and procedures to go over in detail. And then practice throughout the day, pushing in chairs, how to signal that they need to use the restroom, which we feel is the most important one, start with that one, and how to choose a book from the classroom library are a few that I think are important.” And if you've listened to our podcasts for a long, you know, we are very passionate about establishing routines and expectations. So if you want to hear more about this, we have a whole podcast episode dedicated to this topic. It's episode 18. And it will give you everything you need to get your year started off on the right foot. Okay, next up, Brianna says, “After setting routines and expectations, I love to spend a few days getting out all of our math manipulatives. The students enjoy getting to handle them in fun ways. And learning a little about how we will use them for learning throughout the year. I have found that this cuts down on the students playing with them the first time they get passed out for a lesson so we can get right to the learning. This also works for science, reading and any other subject that has quote unquote, toys.” I love this tip. I always did this my first two days of math lessons, I would set up like centers around there because I had a lot of math manipulatives. And so we would just spend that math time like rotating through the stations. And my principal at one point kind of push back on this. She was like, Do you need two days of this? And I was like yes, ma'am. I do. And she was cool with it. But it really does make a difference if they can just get some of that play out and be like, Okay, I made the log cabin out of these base 10 blocks, and then I can actually use it for some thinking. Yes, I totally agree.

Brittany shared this idea that I thought was so brilliant. “I keep a digital folder and a hardcopy folder with the beginning of the year activities. Every year I write out my first days of school schedule outside of my normal lesson plans. Because you know, those first few days have such a wonky schedule. Yeah, and then make notes about what worked and what didn't work. Then I put this in the folder so I can easily reference it to fine tune for the following year.” I think it's so important to do that reflection after because you tell yourself you'll remember how it went, you won't remember and more from Brittany, she says, “I let my September brain schedule reminders for my June brain when many of my instructional aides are quote unquote off schedule, and floating around to offer additional assistance in the last days of school. For instance, last year, I had a reminder pop up to make a class set of paper based 10 pieces. I was able to have an IA work on those cut them apart and sorted them into baggies for me. All done for this year. I hate having busy work like that hanging over me when I'd rather be less than planning. But I teach fourth grade and we need those ready to go for the first day of math.” This is so brilliant because it's another one of those you think you're going to remember you think you're going to remember in June what you need the IAs to do, but you probably won't. So planning ahead to actually set reminders. Oh, I think it's so brilliant. And your next year self will thank you for that planning ahead. Yeah, you feel like you've won a prize in September, if something that you did in June is paying off now. So brilliant. Yeah.

Our next category is self care or teacher care. Shreeka says, “Leave as soon as your contract time is done on the first day. It's the best tradition I joined in on over a decade ago. And if a parent asked what they can get for you, say lunch on the first day or even the second day, we are so busy trying to make it magical for the kids, we often forget to feed ourselves. And it's glorious when food magically appears.” I love that. And Shreeka is my old teaching buddy that I used to eat lunch with every day. So this makes me smile. And I love the idea of leaving right away on the first day of school, it kind of is blowing my mind, in fact that she can do this. But I think the key would be you have to plan ahead to be able to do this. So you need to make sure before the first day of school that you have the first day and the second day planned so that you can enjoy this amazing tradition. I love that idea. It would definitely take some work. I know I usually was so focused on surviving the first day that like the buses pull away on the first day, I was like, ah, what are we doing tomorrow. So it takes some planning, but oh, it would be so worthwhile to just be able to end that day at 345 and go home and crash definitely. And Brianna says, “Toward the end of the summer, make a few meals to freeze that you can pull out the first week of school. That week is so crazy and exhausting. And you do not feel like cooking. So why not prep ahead?” That is such a good idea. I do that with other stressful times in the year like around Christmas time. I don't know why you never thought to play that during the back to school crazy. And I did just see an idea in a magazine that I thought oh, this maybe could work for teachers of doing like a freezer meal exchange. Like if you've got people who make similar types of foods, you can prep the same freezer meal and then swap them out just to give you some extra meals in those first few weeks. That's a good idea. Another first day survival tip from Brittany is, “Wear professional comfy shoes and clothes on the first day and she's got a little smiley face in there. Your feet are out of practice from the summer. And if you were dreading the new school year, make sure you have something yummy to eat for lunch so you can look forward to that small break. I like to order from my favorite Indian place and parceled out over a few days. And then I make sure I have a cold can of Dr Pepper waiting in my fridge after lunch. Or wear your favorite outfit or get a new one because feeling great about yourself helps.” Those are such great tips. I love that Brittany.

Our last category of tips is building relationships. Karen says. “Remember that when you get a new class of students experience them as a new class. Try not to be too affected by the opinions or assessments of the teachers before you; students are individuals and deserve the opportunity to be treated and acknowledged as such.” I love that that's so smart. I know some teachers don't want to hear anything from their previous teachers. But I always I didn't want to be blindsided if someone had a situation I needed to be aware of, or something that they had worked on all year. And I also didn't want to, you know, start without having all the information I needed. But then I also don't want that to determine how I viewed my new little kids because they're different people than they were in the last grade. And then be different for me than they are for someone else. So I like to know a little bit but it's I think what she says is so important like that teachers experiences that teachers experience and these are your kids now and everyone gets a fresh start in September.

Beth says, “When I give my brand new second graders a tour of the school, I always include our custodian and secretary in our people to meet. We talk about how amazing these two people are and how to help them out. It sets a tone of family and teamwork for the year.” It's so important to include everyone in this that makes the school run so that the kids are appreciative of all the work that it takes to give them the learning that they are showing up to get Yes, and we know those are some of the two most important people in the whole school. Absolutely. Our next message is from Maggie and it is a voice message that we're going to play.

“My name is Maggie Jarvis, and I am a teacher in St. Charles, Missouri. My back to school tip doesn't really have much to do with the classroom. But one of my favorite things to do is on the first week back I love to go around and introduce myself to as many new teachers in the building as I can. They probably won't remember my name for a while or even know what position I'm in. But they'll always remember that they had a friendly face on their, you know, first time and a new job. And I remember as a new teacher, that was something that was invaluable to me. And the great thing is later when you see them at a faculty meeting or in the hallway, a nice wave and a friendly smile, remind them, hey, that person is nice and welcoming me to the building.”

That is such a good tip I embarrassed to say I never thought of that. I was always really good about supporting the teachers on my team, especially the new teachers, but I don't think it ever crossed my mind to introduce myself to the new teachers all over the school. Sorry. I love it, though. And imagine being the person in the new teacher shoes, and having someone who's reached out to you. So you don't feel like you're all alone. Even if you're just new at the school. I love that tip. Thank you so much, Maggie. And Jamie's got some good tips to share with us. She says, “Communication is key. Talk with your students daily about real world events, not just schoolwork, parent communication weekly. And as often as needed, helps build strong relationships, talk with your team and other teachers and administrators, you don't have to go it all alone.” Yes, I love that. And now that I'm on the parent side of this, I so appreciate my kids, teachers who have really great communication. So I feel like I know them and I know what's going on in the classroom. So that's something that teachers can do to really help parents feel connected. And then Jamie continues, “Make deep real world connections to build trust with your students. They will appreciate it and it will help lessen engagement, classroom management, communication and more. Learn about what makes them tick outside of the classroom and then use that in the classroom.” I think that's one of the keys to really making your classroom a community is recognizing that these are whole people with whole lives outside of the four walls of your room and bringing what they love into your classroom makes makes their experience so much richer. And then Jamie says, “Have high expectations for all learners. I let my students know what is expected of them and all the great things they can accomplish. I help them to see this and teach them how to meet these expectations. Whether it's for classwork behaviors, homework, social skills, or however needed. I remind them of this several times a day, every day all school year, not just the first week of school. Sometimes I will stop them in the hallway and remind them if ever needed. This lets them know what I expect from them, how they can accomplish it, and also sets a routine.” Kids will rise to meet your expectations for them. So we really do need to hold them to those high expectations. Nobody ever thrived meeting low expectations, right?

Carrie says, “I make sure to introduce myself and have the kids introduce themselves to each other. Even though some of the kids have been together since kindergarten. There are always a few new kids. One year at the beginning of my career, I cruised through the first couple months of school thinking everyone knew each other. Right before winter vacation, I came to realize there was a child who just plain didn't know everyone's names. It hurt me to the core. I try hard not to have that happen.” That is one of the reasons that I really love morning meeting because you think that they know everyone's names, but you'll be you know, November or February and you'll be doing the greeting and someone will still be asking what someone's name is like, we really do have to make that effort to make sure it happens. And to finish off, we know a lot of our teacher listeners are also parents. This last tip is one about helping you get your own kids ready for the new school year.

“Hello, listeners. My name is Shelly. I am a Canadian teacher from Surrey British Columbia. I've been teaching elementary school for 29 years. My best tip for back to school would be routine routine routine. At the end of August the first few days of September. Get the kids back into an eating sleeping routine. A reading routine has hopefully happened all summer. But if not, it's never too late. And reading with them, if they're younger is a great place to start. And if they're older finding those books that they can't put down good quality bookstores can help with that. There's also a lot of free online books for older kids. So to recap, routine, routine routine, eat sleep and learn. That's my best tip for back to school.”

Thank you so much to everyone who shared their amazing back to school ideas with us. We love hearing your teacher approved tips. If you've got a great tip we didn't mention please come share it with us over on Instagram at @2ndstorywindow and that second with a two.

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 week? I am giving extra credit to the most random Instagram account that I absolutely adore, and that is The Greedy Peasant. I love him. This is a case where like, a picture is worth like 100,000 words because it's gonna be really hard to explain. Yes, you've got to just go look him up, and I know he's on Tik Tok. He probably is more popular there than even on Instagram, but so it's a guy dressed as a medieval peasant. Just doing his best to plan his villages royal pageant, and spread awareness of tassels. And avoid getting drawn into the family business of being the executioner. And really no amount of words can do this justice because it's just so delightfully quirky, and his videos tickle me every time I even subscribe to his Patreon, so I can get the monthly church bulletin, which covers tassel corner. And he reliquary updates. I'm learning so much. And of course, paper dolls, which I didn't know I needed. What more could you want from my account on social media? I love it. What about you, Emily, what is your extra credit? Well, I'm giving extra credit to my two best friends. My two college roommates, Laurie and Emily. Yes, there's two of us. They have a nickname for both of us. They came to visit me last week when they were both in town and we just had such a great time together. They both love a project. So we did a super quick makeover on the formal living room of my house. It's a room I've neglected because it doesn't get used for much besides piano playing. Now it's got a big beautiful picture on the wall and a new lamp with cozy throw pillows and a blanket. And the top of the piano has some nice decorations and a big mirror now and I have a little faux olive tree on the way to it hasn't arrived yet. Every time I walk in that room now I get a big smile on my face. And I love that the space will always remind me of my two best friends. I still haven't seen it. I need to come over Yeah, get over and Emily Laurie, we love you.

That's it for today's episode, be sure to apply some of these tips to your back to school plans. 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.