As we approach a new school year, it's time to start thinking about the shape our new year will take. We know that the best way to have a good year is to be pro-active, to plan what will happen on the first day.
Harry Wong, the author of The First Day of School, emphasizes routines, and I have personally seen the strength of having explicit structure in a classroom. We also know, from Doug Lemov, the author of Teach Like a Champion, that we structure our environment in a way that leads to successful outcomes. And we can't forget to plan to manage behavior!
You create the the learning environment in your classroom by seating students in a way that supports your instructional delivery, organizing materials and books in a way that are readily accessible but organized, decorating your walls and bulletin boards with information and ways to use your students work, and pro-active, positive learning support behavior tools.
Bare walls communicate a lack of preparation, a lack of enthusiasm and an unfriendly space. Well designed, cheerful wall displays that have room for student work will welcome your student in, help them anticipate what will happen during the year, and give them a positive message about you and your classroom.
The way your class is seated should be determined by your instructional delivery, the amount of time you spend with your class in collaborative groups and the kind of class you have. Philadelphia prescribed island groups, but they were not very successful with 16 students in special education with all kinds of behavioral challenges. You need to think about the way you will begin: is your school the kind where kids come with good skills, dealing with peers? You may want to start with Islands of 4. Got a noisy bunch? Maybe the Two By Two seating style will suit you best.
You can cut your classroom rules down to 4 or 5 if you have clearly established routines for how things are done in your classroom. How do you students line up? When is it done to expectations and what are your expectations?
Establishing routines and rehearsing them in the first couple of weeks of school will make a significant difference in how smoothly your classroom runs all year. Be clear about what your routines are, and teach them. Don't accept behavior that cuts corners or allows students to show disrespect for you, your classroom or their peers. Routines are successful even in the most unruly and difficult inner city schools if you are tough enough to inforce your routines.
Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is the sum of all the preventive measures you take to create an environment where expectations, where the right kind of behavior is supported and reinforced and the wrong kind of behavior has consequences. When behavioral expectations are clear, and students recieve either intangible or tangible rewards for good behavior, you are unlikely to spend a lot of time addressing problem or difficult behavior.
If you are new to your position or getting new students, it's good to get in there (the records room, the file cabinet or perhaps the online IEP program) and read up on your students for the coming year. If you are returning to students you had the year before, it's not a bad idea to review their accommodations (Specially Designed Instruction) and their goals. It's not too soon to review the instructional strategies you used with those students last year, with an eye to changing or modifying your appoach. Oh, don't forget progress monitoring!
Students who come to the resource room often suffer from dyslexia. Contributing Writer Eileen Bailey has put together a back to school list of resources to help you help your cooperating teachers provide appropriate supports for students with dyslexia.
Progress monitoring, also known as Data Collection, is critical for assessing the progress your students are making on their IEP goals. It's also one of the hardest things on which to follow through. Before the year begins it's great to get those progress monitoring and data sheets ready for data collection. Some school have online programs, and others may even ask you to log in and report data that you've collected at regular intervals.