6 Tips for an Energizing and Productive Start to the School Year

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As educators and students across the country head back to school, it’s definitely a time of hope and excitement. But how can we make the transition from summer to fall a smooth one and continue those feelings throughout the year? We asked several former educators at Battelle for Kids to share their insights to ensure a productive and energizing start to the school year.  

BacktoSchool1. Define your work with students
“I've started suggesting that we should do three word evaluations,” explains Battelle for Kids’ Executive Director Emeritus Jim Mahoney, who served nearly 30 years as a teacher, principal, and superintendent. “Teachers would need to share three verbs that would define their work with students, describe why they picked them, and outline the evidence they will present at the end of the year to demonstrate they had done that very thing.” 

“If I were still teaching, I would choose: prepare, motivate, and grow,” he added. “Being over prepared is hardly a fault. I can't tell you the teachers over the years who told me they ran out of material and activities too quickly. Motivate is thinking about what would excite kids to learn. Anybody think your own version of Pokémon Go might peak some interest in any subject? Last is thinking about the things I'm going to do during the year to grow students socially, emotionally, and academically. Have kids help you build individual baselines now, and you will be surprised what they look like in May.”

2. Foster a sense of belonging in students
Be really thoughtful about connecting each student to your class and school through purposeful activities. Everyone needs to feel that they belong. School is certainly about academic gain. But never forget that the most important things are how we make students feel about themselves, how we help them envision all they can become, and how we create in them a passion for their personal journey. Kids may not remember the content 20 years from now, but they will remember how you helped them understand they were capable of more than they ever imagined.”

3. Build connections with students and staff
Connecting with teachers, as well as students, is a precursor to creating high-performing schools. Spending time getting to know your students and staff as individuals will go a long way.

4. Create reminders of your impact as an educator
Get energized at the beginning of the year by making a list of the students and colleagues who you have mentored, taught, and helped grow over the years. When you are doubting yourself as an educator, pull this list out. Let it serve as a reminder that every day, you are making a difference, and that there are people who believe in you. Each day, you help other people become better versions of themselves. While it’s important to be inspired as you plan for a new year, it’s equally important to reignite that inspiration throughout the year.

5. Get your students on winning streaks
As you head back to the classroom, plan for ways to get your students on winning streaks from day one. Use an assessment to build confidence with items and tasks that students should recognize. Remember the purpose of pre-assessment is to find out where students are ‘entering’ the learning, not where they’ll exit it. For students who ace it or struggle, you can always assess more to see what they know and can do. You want your students saying, ‘Look what I already know. I can do this. This is going to be a great year.'

6. Invest in your school’s hidden curriculum
A new school year often includes the launch of new curriculum initiatives and intervention programs. Break the cycle of initiative fatigue by investing in your school’s hidden curriculum—the school’s culture. Just like a garden requires the right conditions to flourish, learning requires an environment that values collegial and collaborative efforts that focus attention, behaviors, and energy to accelerate student learning. Start by inspiring teachers to reflect on their own mindset and what excites them about their own learning. Remind teachers that a growth mindset thrives on challenges. Warn teachers that mindsets are malleable, and modeling a growth mindset becomes contagious. Students may begin borrowing their passion and perseverance to navigate through their own challenges. Sustaining a positive culture requires focus, clarity, and ongoing monitoring and adjustments; however, the investment in this hidden curriculum will ultimately provide visible learning.

Finally, as you consider your approach to implementing these six tips, remember the Big C: communicate. When we clearly communicate with stakeholders—educators, parents, students, businesses, community leaders, and others—early and often about how efforts will lead to greater equity and opportunity for all kids, they are much more likely to embrace change and engage around the important roles they play to move education forward. 

From everyone at Battelle for Kids, best of luck on a productive, engaging, and rewarding school year!