Back to school: tips for the new academic year

04/09/17

As September begins, anyone in education is eagerly anticipating the new academic year. Whether they are considering the best classroom layout for the new term, deciding how to engage a fresh group of pupils, or wondering what to expect from the profession as newly qualified members of it, there is a lot for teachers — established or new — to prepare. To some, this thorough back to school planning process can be a daunting prospect.

To make sure you’re using all your resources, technologies and tools to their full potential, and optimising your pedagogy, we’ve put together some useful tips for preparing for the new academic year:

Think about the learning space

The start of the school year is the perfect time to re-think the layout and design of your classroom, and consider how well-suited it is to learning. Traditional rows of forward-facing desk could be replaced with cluster workstations, a horseshoe shape or different project hubs to facilitate collaborative learning. Examine your preferred teaching techniques, and decide whether having more interactive space would be effective.

Then, consider your educational goals for your pupils; what specifically do they need to learn this year, and how is it best to achieve it? Factors such as lighting, sounds, temperature and display imagery all play an important role in maintaining pupil engagement on a day-to-day basis.

To foster creativity and collaboration, ask your pupils to share images they feel inspired by, or pictures of spaces they’d be motivated to work in, and pull out common themes to optimise your learning space throughout the year.

Create a class website

Using a simple free tool like Blogger, Weebly or WordPress, you can create a personalised online space for your class. It can be used for:

  • Communicating class information
  • Sharing student achievements
  • Outlines homework tasks
  • Posting student pictures

By working with your students on the layout, style and content, you can also teach core technical skills, and get your students thinking about how digital tools are used in everyday life. Learning basic coding and web design principals will spark inspiration for future digital learning.

Consider classroom policies and procedures

Thinking about your class rules ahead of term doesn’t necessarily mean they should be set in stone. Rather, consider the different processes that require a policy and then collaborate with your pupils on the best way to implement them.

Including students in the rulemaking process creates a sense of ownership and a higher chance the policies will be adhered to. These can cover:

  • Toilet requests
  • Homework submission
  • Attendance
  • Lunch
  • Hallway conduct

Plan your communication channels

To help your new pupils — and their parents — feel at ease before the new school year, consider sending out a welcome pack to your new class. These packs can include key information on what materials the pupils need for the year, insight into the learning objectives, some information about you with appropriate contact details, and what to expect on the first day.

It is important to highlight ongoing, approachable communication methods, so parents and pupils feel they have a platform to engage and ask questions if necessary. This channels can be email, text message, chat apps like WhatsApp or through a free digital platform like ClassFlow.

Prepare icebreaker activities

The first week back to school can be exciting or stressful for pupils, especially if they are new to the school. To facilitate a safe environment for them to feel at ease, it’s a good idea to start the new year with icebreaker activities. This gives new pupils a means to interact, and will build confidence in quieter pupils.

Ideas could include:

Ask your pupils to find their ‘match’
By using coordinating puzzle pieces or images, pupils could move around the room looking for the corresponding image. Have them ask each other questions and introduce themselves. At the end, when all pupils are paired up, they can introduce their ‘match’ to the rest of class.

Create name chains
To enable your students to learn each other’s names, have pupils repeat, memorise and allocate nicknames to their classmates. Test them all at the end to see who has retained the information.

Play ‘who am I’
Give all pupils a well-known alter-ego on display to the rest of the class. Have the students walk around with their name on display (but so they cannot see it) and ask their classmates questions about who they are.

Get to know your technology

Not all schools have a wealth of digital tools available, but there is evidence to suggest that even technologically-equipped schools experience a gap when it comes to utilising the tools available.

Digital tools are meant to enhance learning, not hinder or distract from it. Many teachers object, citing that available edtech takes too long to set up. When going back to school, familiarise yourself with all available digital tools and platform functionality ahead of time to significantly speed up its operation.

Does your classroom have a computer, an interactive whiteboard or an ActivPanel touch screen display? If so, research the freely available educational applications that can be used to enhance your lesson delivery.

Finally, consider the use of virtual or augmented reality in the classroom to allow your pupils to approach a subject from an entirely unique angle and boost pupil engagement and interest.

Develop progress reporting

At the start of the academic year it is important to set up not only transparent communication channels, but to consider the best methods for ongoing reporting, assessment and feedback.

Pupils benefit from continual assessment and real-time feedback, so find the most time-efficient channel for this at the start of term and commit to keeping it ongoing throughout the year. Whether it’s regular emails to parents, hand-written feedback, or interactive reporting within your digital platform like ClassFlow, explore the opportunities for recognising achievements and providing feedback where learning needs some extra work. ClassFlow also provides teachers with the facility to send rewards and badges to pupils, actively motivating and engaging the class throughout the academic year.

So, the end of August needn’t be a time for sleepless nights or feeling unprepared for going back to school. With some handy (and often free) digital applications, a little bit of attention-to-detail and extra planning for the first day of term, your classroom will be a more inspiring and collaborative learning space for you and your pupils.

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