What first year teacher doesn’t need awesome tips to not just survive, but THRIVE this crucial school year? I value amazing hacks and tricks that will help lessen my stress over any cute classroom decor you give me and I want to share everything with you! These 10 MUST KNOW tips can help ground you back to what’s important in education and how to continue pushing through learning and growing with your kiddos!
From the moment students step through your door, you begin to build that sense of community together. It’s important to start working on core values immediately so that students know they are going to be a part of a class family that is safe, supportive, and welcoming.
Connection circles or class meetings from day one is a great way to begin to build that safe space for students and let them know that their voice is a valuable part of the classroom. Learn more about building in that time HERE. Taking time to establish a good team environment is always an amazing way to build relationships. Using great team building activities at the beginning of the year, when you come back from breaks, or after any rough patch your classroom might have gone through is crucial to keeping that community together. It helps establish and maintain positive relationships with each other because they understand the power of teamwork. Click here to check out some of my favorite team building activities!
Spend 6 Weeks
Routines and procedures are the glue that keeps your classroom together. They are both things to not only plan out, but to spend ample amounts of TIME establishing and practicing with students. They should be very EXPLICIT and CLEAR and modeled by you as many times as needed. Getting these crucial components down at the beginning of the year will save you for the REST of the year.
Plan to spend the first SIX WEEKS with students building those rules, routines, and procedures and this will help your students hit the ground running when it comes to instruction, because they know what is expected of them. Thinking through things like carpet time procedures, hallway procedures, and bathroom procedures, are just a few but very important things to think about. Check out this blog post HERE to learn more specifics about teaching routines and procedures to students.
Looks Like Sounds Like
Make this phrase your best friend. Trust me. But what’s it mean? It’s the hack you’ll need those first six weeks when teaching procedures! The biggest secret to having students master their expectations is by teaching them what EVERY procedure looks like and sounds like. You’ll want to EXPLICITLY modeling procedures for students so they will understand and know their expectations to a tee.
There are so many procedures in the classroom that you’ll have to work at to get down. It could be for sharpening pencils, transitioning to centers, or your whole group time?. No matter what it is, using this “looks like, sounds like” framework is a quick, easy, and effective way to immediately get your kiddos do exactly what you need and expect from them. Like I said, the phrase “looks like, sounds like” will be your best friend. Try it, reap the benefits, and thank me later!
Take it SLOW and Give Grace
The first year is HARD so don’t be afraid to give yourself and your students grace. It is not realistic to think during your first year you should have it all together. When it feels as if everything is crumbling, take a deep breath and know that it’s not. Your feelings are normal and you’re still a great teacher. Figure out what’s overwhelming you and slowly get back to what’s important. Confide in positive colleagues, don’t be afraid to ask for advice, and talk to other first year teachers so you know you’re not alone!
Don’t forget to take care of YOU. Know when to leave and put things down for the day. Set timers to do things like drink water and take deep breaths throughout the day. Don’t feel guilty about using those personal days. Take a mental health day when you need it. I know it’s hard to step back, but sometimes it’s not only the best thing for you, but also your students.
DON’T Do it All
While all the things are important, nothing is more important than your health. It is SO easy to get consumed and say yes to ALL the things. HOWEVER, it is important to set boundaries for your time outside the classroom, know your limits, and set clear expectations for the extra duties you do pick up. Get really good at a few good things and focus on THAT. You’ll have plenty of time to master all the things that teachers have in their toolbox and trust me when I say it’ll take decades to get things down. Even then you still feel some emotions of being inadequate, so understand that’s common. However, always remember you can do everything, but you can’t do everything at the same time.
See EVERY Student
Your class is diverse. We are ALL different in some way. Make space for every student to be seen. Build a culturally rich environment with posters and books. Create opportunities for students to see themselves reflected in the classroom to feel like they belong. Help them develop understandings about the wider world through literature. Allow students to walk into stories and become part of the world to encourage reflection and action.
These are all ways to create mirrors, windows, and sliding doors in your classroom which is critical for students. We Are Teachers wrote a wonderful article about this and you should DEFINITELY check it out !! You can begin making an awesome list of books to start acquiring for a super diverse classroom library by looking at this list. It covers books on different races, different abilities, and different walks of life. This piece of your classroom will make a HUGE difference in that positive and all welcoming community we talked about earlier. Begin building that strong community and getting to know each student with the Get to Know You Freebie. Grab it by subscribing below!
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What’s Good for YOU
Just because it’s good for someone else doesn’t mean it works for you and your students. Be creative. Find your teaching style. Involve yourself in a bigger community to find other teachers that you can connect to and get ideas from. Prioritize self care so that you can stay energized enough to do what you love. Don’t try to compare or do what the next teacher is doing because YOU bring amazing things to the classroom. Figure out how to bring your special talents to your lessons and your kids will love it. Bring your passion and let that drive how you engage your learners and do what’s good for YOU!
Giving ownership to your students is one of the most powerful things you can do in your classroom. It may seem scary at first but ask yourself- What can THEY do? Give them access to ALL the things they may need so that they can meet their own needs. Create a well organized space for you and your students. Check out how to set up your classroom for THEM and watch magic happen. Organizing spaces FOR students is one of the most crucial things you can do to start having your classroom *almost* run itself.
One SUPER simple way to empower students to have more ownership of the classroom, is by labeling absolutely everything. Not only is this a great way to develop more natural ‘sight words’ for their classroom, it creates the autonomy for students to be able to navigate and learn independently. Spruce up your labels with visuals AND words! Your students can use those labels to freely get what they need. This means, no more getting crayons or Band-Aids for them, no more whole group instruction interruptions for a broken pencil, or students wasting time because they can’t find something. Why? Because their classroom is set up for THEM! They can do it! Let them step into their power! With THESE editable labels, you can design and organize your space so that your students own the room. You’ll be amazed to simply watch the shift!!
If It Doesn’t Work
Try something new! You may need to tweak something or completely change it. Teachers have to be flexible and it’s going to take a lot of trial and error to see what works with your kiddos and what should never be tried again. Remember, our diverse group of students will have all kinds of differing learning styles and it’ll take some work, and TIME, to figure it all out. Don’t be afraid to try something different if things aren’t working. This goes for your classroom arrangement, organization, the way your centers run, anything you can think of that might be the root of your problem. Don’t hesitate or be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Going back to the drawing board might just be the reset you need!
The most important tip of all is to have fun daily with your students. Laughter is amazing medicine for any and everything and your classroom should be bursting with it. Learning is fun and we should never lose sight of that. Bring play back into your lessons and watch everyone thrive! There are TONS of resources to help incorporate several fun activities while practicing crucial academic skills. Your first year will be full of many challenges, lessons, and yes even tears, so be silly, laugh and enjoy it! You will only have this group of students one time so make the best of it! This year only happens once in a lifetime and believe me, it is a year you will NEVER forget.
Are you feeling completely overwhelmed and not sure where to start as a first year teacher? Check out the Beginning of the Year Teacher Survival Guide. This guide goes into extensive detail on how to successfully set up your classroom for the entire year. You’ll learn how to successfully set up your classroom in a way that flows and stays organized, strategies for building a positive classroom community, and all kinds of information on classroom management and instruction! This guide will have you SET and help take some of the stress and pressure off.
I really hope you enjoyed learning 10 must know tips to thrive the first year! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including The Get to Know You FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how-to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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