Get students working early during the school year so you don't spend too much time reviewing last year's work.
Tips for School & District Administrators

Starting School Right is About Enabling Students’ Success, Building Parents’ Trust

By Brian Gatens

In an earlier post, I talked about specific ways to get your school year off to a strong start. Today I’ll focus on broader strategies for setting students up to succeed and getting parents deeply involved in their learning — both of which can energize your personal practice and your classroom.

Talk about the past to enable the future

Get students working early during the school year so you don't spend too much time reviewing last year's work.Always keep in mind that students tend to enter your classroom as blank slates. Yes, they have a base of coursework and class time to lean on, but you are a new experience for them.

The best way to get them settled into your class isn’t so much to talk about what they will be doing, but rather to describe how your previous students found success. Think about how the most successful students approached your class:

  • Did they complete the work on time?
  • Were they consistent in attending extra-help sessions?
  • What did their study habits look like?

By beginning this way, you’re setting the expectations that success is possible because students just like them also have succeeded.

Show previous class averages

While you’re lauding the successes of previous classes, spend some time showing your last years student’s class averages (after removing student-identifying information of course). Share the assignments that caused the most difficulty, and offer the students specific advice for how successful students worked their way through it.

Setting the stage this way brings a dry and analytical approach to classroom success, which, I guarantee you, is exactly what some students need to start your class. Grades and past class activities can create effective maps for a student’s future success.

Offer opportunities for pre-work

I think that too many teachers spend the first month of school (or longer) getting to know their students and reviewing past work. Yes, it’s important to have a firm grasp of a child’s experience and past performance, but there’s a time when you’ll need to shift into new work.

One way to cut down this time is to offer students an opportunity to complete some work either at the end of summer or right when school starts. This can easily be accomplished by emailing your students and using some online services (such as Google Forms, etc.) to have them read and complete a few assignments. Getting your eyes on student work as soon as possible lets you begin to establish their needs and build lessons targeting their academic growth.

Gather parent feedback

Building a strong relationship with parents is essential to their children’s potential to excel. The best way to foster this connection is to ask parents for thoughts and ideas regarding their child’s strengths, needs, and the best ways to help them learn.

When a family knows their child is going into the classroom of a dedicated and hardworking professional, they will convey that message to the child. In turn, the child will be open to what you have to teach. Parents who trust and respect teachers are a huge part of classroom success.

Be sensitive to nontraditional families

Along those lines, stay attuned to the communication needs of mixed/divided families. Rare is the classroom today whose students come from traditional nuclear families.

In your early communications with parents, be sure to explicitly ask for other family members who should be included on class emails, and also encourage families to share with you any unique situations. This high level of attentiveness will carry you far as you begin to ask more and more of the family as the school work increases during the year.

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