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The Top 3 Things on the Back to School Checklist

The back-to-school season is always the most stressful and overwhelming time of the year for teachers as there are so many things on the back-to-school checklist. A teacher’s organization and preparation before a school year starts are keys to effective teaching and management throughout the year.

The top 3 things on the back to school checklist

I can still remember clearly how lost I was the first day I stepped into my classroom. I spent so much time organizing the classroom library books and filling up all the empty shelves and wall spaces.

However, the truth is your room doesn’t have to be perfect by the first day of school. A few empty bookshelves, learning centers, or boards won’t bother anyone. Thinking about the classroom management plan and procedures is way more important.

But still, that’s a lot, so today I want to talk about the top three things you really have to do for a smooth back to school. Click here or the picture below to download a free checklist.

back to school checklist landing page
Click the picture above to get the 6-page back-to-school checklist.

Back to School Checklist #1: Getting Your Room Ready

As I said above, your room doesn’t have to be like the ultimate room you want, but there are certain preparations you have to do.

First, think about your room arrangement. How many tables do you need and how do you want to organize them? Desks don’t have to be in rows. You can group them to promote teamwork and cultivate a caring learning environment. However, you need to make sure all your students can easily see you during instruction time. Also, leave some extra tables and chairs in case you get new admits.

Below are some ways to organize the tables. Choose the best for your class!

Have three single tables in the middle for students who need extra attention and support.
Have three single tables in the middle for students who need extra attention and support.
Students may have to face different directions to save some room space. However, make sure they all can see you during your lessons.
Students may have to face different directions to save some room space. However, make sure they all can see you during your lessons.
Group tables to promote teamwork and cultivate a caring learning environment.
Group tables to promote teamwork and cultivate a caring learning environment.

Second, where are you going to put the classroom libraries and centers? Different schools may have slightly different practices, but a classroom usually has libraries of leveled books, social studies books, science books, etc. Besides, you may also need a bookcase as the math center to put all the math manipulatives. If you also need to teach science, prepare another shelf as the science center to store science experiment materials. Some classrooms also have a small computer or laptop center in the corner nowadays.

Organize one subject's books and materials in one bookcase.
Organize one subject’s books and materials in one bookcase.

Next, how about your teacher’s desk or working area during preps? I enjoy having a teacher’s desk, so I can have a relatively quiet space to work when another cluster teacher is teaching. I can also spread documents on my big desktop to view and organize them quickly. However, don’t make your teacher’s working area too separate from your students as behavior problems are more likely to occur when your students feel you are not that close.

After considering your space, let’s think about spaces for the belongings of your students. Where are they going to store their schoolbags during the day? Have your numbered or designated the backpack space for each student? Besides, students also need areas to put their water bottles, snacks, lunch bags, umbrellas or raincoats, shoes, jackets and winter coats, lost-and-found items, etc.

In addition, you also need to consider how to arrange your wall space, including bulletin boards for instruction (e.g., displaying students’ work in different subjects, and groupings, charts, posters, and learning objectives) and areas for classroom management (e.g., classroom rules, helpers, procedures, calendar, clock, behavior chart, emergency protocols, maps, flags, daily schedules, charts, decorations and birthdays). You may also utilize the space on cabinet doors if necessary.

One example of utilizing the cabinet doors.
One example of utilizing the cabinet doors.

Also, think about how to use your cabinet space to store supplies (e.g., printing paper, loose leaf, paper towels, tissue boxes, sanitizers, baby wipes, post-its, glues, markers, crayons, construction paper, duck tapes) and your stuff (e.g. curricula, teacher reading materials, your personal belongings). For some frequently-used supplies, find an open space for them so students can access them easily.

Use caddies to store students' frequently-used supplies.
Use caddies to store students’ frequently-used supplies.

Furthermore, decorate your classroom door and make sure your class exponent is clear and obvious. Some teachers like to put all students’ names on the door before the first day of school for parents and kids to find the room. While others may do that later as the class roster may change or they want kids to make their own name cards for the door.

An owl-themed classroom.
An owl-themed classroom.

Last but not least, test any electrical or mechanical equipment (e.g., the school laptop, interactive whiteboard, document camera/Elmo, Viewboard) in your room to make sure it works before the first day of school. Look for technical support immediately if something doesn’t work.

Back to School Checklist #2: Building Positive Connections With Your Parents And Students

We all know the first impression is very important. Besides dressing properly and meeting parents and kids with a smiley face, one common and effective way to give parents a good first impression is to send a letter home.

In the letter, you can briefly introduce yourself, leave your contact information, explain your teaching philosophy, and state your expectations of your students. Some teachers also make pretty flipbooks with a lot more information (e.g., daily schedule, school curricula, communication platform, homework expectations, supply list).

Additionally, nowadays educational communication platforms such as Remind, ClassDojo, ClassTag, and Google Classroom are getting popular in classrooms. Kindly send an invitation home with steps for joining your class will be super helpful for the parents.

As for students, prepare some icebreakers and get-to-know-you activities for the first few days and for social-emotional learning throughout the year. There are tons of activities you can find online, but time is limited, so we need to think about what activities are the best for our kids.

60 quick conversation cards to help students get to know each other.
60 quick conversation cards to help students get to know each other.
Free math "Figure Me Out" activity.
Free math “Figure Me Out” activity.

I made activity cards mainly for these three purposes – Conversation, Collaboration, and Community (the 3C). You can simply make your own cards, but if you want to save some time… You can purchase the cards here.

Another activity I always do at the beginning of each school year is to talk about goals with my students. After the discussion, every student needs to set at least one goal they want to work on during the school year. Here are some cactus-themed templates for bulletin boards if you want to purchase them.

A cactus-themed goal for growth bulletin board activity.
A cactus-themed goal for growth bulletin board activity.

Furthermore, I discussed the importance of respecting values, giving compliments, and accepting differences in this blog post. Check it out and get a freebie of worksheets for the three simple but effective back-to-school and social-emotional learning activities.

Back to School Checklist #3: Teaching Procedures

Procedures in a classroom are like the railroad tracks and the content is the train. Therefore, procedures come before content.

When it was my first year, school started on a Thursday, and when the next week came, I moved on to teach the content. After the first reading lesson, my students asked me where they should put their reading worksheets. I had no idea because so many things were just piling up randomly inside their tables. There were folders and notebooks without any names, with name tags printed by the parents, or with names written in markers of different colors.

I had no time to take care of all the supplies, so I told my students just to put them in any folders of their choice. However, this could only last for a few days before everyone went crazy. Later, our consultant came in and after I told her what was going on, she immediately told me to stop teaching the lessons to figure out the logistics and finish teaching procedures.

Different signs to get students' attention.
Different signs to get students’ attention.

From then on, I always make sure I have sorted everything out and I have had enough time to teach procedures before any academic teaching. Therefore, if you are a new teacher, I highly recommend you take your time to teach and practice procedures. Don’t feel pressured if your other colleagues have moved on. With solid tracks, your train will have a chance to catch up someday.

What Procedures Do We Need?

Here is a list of procedures that are typically used in K-12 classrooms.

What procedures do we need?

How Do We Teach Procedures?

As you can see, there are so many procedures to teach, so it’s impossible to teach all of them within the first week of school and expect students to remember everything. In fact, we teach, reinforce, practice, or even modify procedures throughout the year. It’s an ongoing process.

First of all, you need to look at the class in front of you and decide what procedures are needed. Second, break the teaching of each procedure into simple steps and teach them in various ways (e.g., visually, orally, kinesthetically). Remember to check if your students fully understand your teaching of the procedure.

Third, always practice the procedures with your students and reinforce them by reviewing them regularly. If you see a procedure is not necessary or you have a better one to replace it, don’t hesitate to modify it.

For instance, I used to have two paper helpers. However, later I realized it took too much time for two students to distribute worksheets to give out worksheets to the whole class. People were waiting for them and they lost learning time as well. Thus, later I canceled these two jobs and asked my four table monitors to distribute materials.

To Sum Up

In my opinion, the top three things on the Back-to-School to-do List are getting your room ready, building positive connections with your parents and students, and teaching procedures.

What else do you think needs to be on the list? Let me know by sending me a message over on Instagram @eurekasheets. I can’t wait to see what you have to say. 

Don’t forget to get the free back-to-school checklist.

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Happy teaching, 

Ingrid