Six Strategies for a Successful School Year
Another school year is about to begin. As educators it's a good time to establish some priorities. In my 25+ years of experience in education, I've learned a few things that make a great deal of difference in setting a positive and productive tone for the year. Here are six quick tips that will definitely make you and your students enjoy the next 180 days.
1. Know how to manage your classroom (children included).
If you can manage the learning environment, then effective, maximum learning will take place. It's simple. Managing the learning environment is about creating a positive atmosphere where all are encouraged to learn, collaborate and share. This doesn't mean that everything will be easy for students. The key is that the environment is supportive, orderly and fun even with the challenging moments. Think about it. Would you not be motivated to try harder and stick with it when there is an atmosphere of support?
2. Know your stuff.
You have to be proficient in your area of delivery. But none of us are experts in everything, or maybe it’s not a question of knowledge, but rather skill in delivering something. That, however, is not an excuse to drop the ball or not prepare yourself to help students attain mastery. There are a myriad of tools and resources (many free) to help fill the gaps. Be proactive in taking advantage of all the tools out there. Check out our global education resources page for tools, links and ideas.
3. It’s good that YOU know your stuff, now plan effectively for students to learn it.
Shift your focus to your students. The requirement is that you are skillful enough to break it down for students and then help them to build the bridges to secure the new skills and then connect those skills to other knowledge they have. Scaffolding is the name of the game. Knowledge interconnectedness is how students grow. This needs to be extended to all our students, including those with language needs or special needs. There are resources readily available to help you understand how to enhance the learning experience for ELs, for example. The great thing is these strategies work well for all students.
4. Create local and global context in your lessons.
Knowledge can be enriched by having a global perspective (knowledge is not always universal). What we learn in a classroom, say, in Raeford, North Carolina, can be explored through the context of another global location. Learning math (estimating), or science (precipitation), or sound (science/music) can be presented from or integrated with a global perspective. You say that's cool. I say it's required.
We can’t continue to operate from the flat surface of learning standards. Standards only come alive if we can apply them to our own context and enhance it to new ones (portability). Learning becomes truly dynamic when we can transfer it to multiple contexts: social, geographic and academic.
Remember I said to prompt students to be curious? It's a guarantee that if you teach from a global perspective, your students will be exposed to new perspectives which will get their wheels turning. And if you say you can't do that because you are teaching STE(A)M, or you can't because you are focused on increasing academic achievement, I say, you've missed the point.
5. Use other curricular areas and technology as resources to inquire, manipulate, produce and share.
Math is not just math. It involves understanding information. We need literacy skills to understand the requirements of a problem. The context may be science or social studies. It should involve writing on an ongoing basis. The same is true for all areas. If you plan carefully, the opportunities to reference or integrate other areas will actually show up. And also think about the arts, music and technology. Don't expect to create monster plans to integrate. Sometimes a mention, a quick story, or diversion is all it takes for students to connect the dots. As a matter of fact, it is truly amazing when kids start to make their own connections! Yay! That's when it becomes more fun and interesting.
6. Know if it’s working.
If not, there’s no time to lose, reroute. All educators are in the business of ensuring student growth. You have to assess and monitor regularly. That is part of knowing your students. It’s a combination of skill building (formative) and summative (proficiency). It's the environment in which we operate. The politics of the testing environment only determines the degree of emphasis on testing results as it relates to measuring a school, teachers, etc. That is only going to shift one way or another, but it's not going away. Some schools have learned to balance the politics to place the emphasis on student growth, but the vast majority of school districts are still preoccupied with proficiency measures and related issues. As individual educators you will always be accountable for student learning, that is, the growth made while under your tutelage.
Know your students. Gather evidence of engagement, skill building and proficiency. Document how you've helped in cases where there is a learning gap. For your non-native English speakers (in the case of English speaking countries), determine if the lack of progress is due to language interference or an actual skills development issue. There is more capacity today to address these situations than ever before, but there are still important gaps in finding or accessing tools to do this effectively.
Finally, if after collecting data, you have evidence it's not working, change strategy. Don't just reteach with the same tools and strategies. That's like when you say something students don't understand and you engage again by saying the exact same thing, just louder, or slower. Why do you expect them to understand this time? Reteaching means thinking of an alternate strategy or format, skill building method or assessment tool. See if that works.
Bonus: 7. Teach students to keep learning and be curious.
Ask the questions, what are you still curious about? Or what wonderings do you still have about this or a related topic? Accept their answers and if there is time, encourage some further inquiry – even if it is informal as a game to see who can learn more and share in one or two days. This will help transform students into lifelong learners.