Tip #10 for Making Your Next School Year Easier

With the dog days of summer nearly behind us, it’s time to start thinking in earnest about the coming school year – and the students with whom we get to spend the next 10 months. So without further ado, here’s my final word on the 10 Things To Do This Summer To Make Next Year Easier.

A few weeks before school starts, I like to send a letter to my students. It can be fairly simple – just a note that demonstrates how excited I am about the year ahead, and how seriously I take learning. In my letter, I try to give students some insight into what they’ll be learning and how my classroom is structured. I also make sure to let them know that parents play a critical role in its function. They need to know that parents will be a part of their success!

If you’ve also taken the time to send a letter to parents (see Day 9), you’ll have hit all the most important communication bases, and made a powerful first impression to boot!

I hope you’ve had a positive and productive summer! If you’ve made it through all the suggestions in the 10 Things series, you’re already off and running. Good luck and best wishes for a positive school year!

Wait!  I almost forgot!  Have you signed up for the Brain Waves Instruction newsletter?  It's filled with a TON of EXCLUSIVE FREEBIES that will make teaching a blast this school year.  Just click here and you'll receive a set of 5 creative writing resources instantly!

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

Find every tip for Making Your Next School Easier by clicking each tip below:

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Tip #9 For Making Your Next School Year Easier

Welcome to Day 9 of 10 Things To Do This Summer To Make Next Year Easier!

As a parent and educator, I can attest to the many benefits of early, frequent communication. Even if you don’t yet know who will be in your class, you can start drafting a letter to parents now. Post it on your classroom website, mail it home, or hold onto to it until Curriculum Night.  You see where I'm going here, right?  Tip #9 for making your next school year easier is to

This is the perfect opportunity to create a positive first – and lasting – impression on parents. Who doesn’t want to be in the know about the teachers who will be spending so much time with their children?

I like to start off with a positive tone and some words about how excited I am to have their kids in my classroom. Other elements to consider including:
 ---  your philosophy about parent involvement
---  your personal and educational background
 ---  how often and through what means you tend to communicate with families
 ---  how to reach you
---  a copy of your classroom rules and any personal promises you like to make (see teacher Sandra Looper’s Pledge to Parents for inspiration). 

 You’ll find a letter to parents in my Back To School Toolkit, which includes loads of other helpful templates and documents to help you with management, communication and first-week activities.

I also created an editable template for a Parent News flyer that you can send or share with parents for blog readers (that's you!).  
Engaging letter to parents for back to school.

Or, create one of your own! Check back soon for the last installment of 10 Things To Do This Summer To Make Next Year Easier. 

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

In case you missed them, here are Tips 1 - 8:

Tip #8 for Making Your Next School Year Easier

Summertime can be tough on a teacher’s wallet. If you’re a 10-month employee, those eight, otherwise awesome weeks may require you to get creative and stretch your dollars. That's why tip #8 is to

There are a ton of awesome free lesson plans available for teachers.  They're perfect to tide you over and ensure that your classroom this coming school year runs smoothly.

Check out these two FREE resources to get you started...

12 Lesson Extenders 

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a lesson ends a little bit early leaving the opportunity for unstructured classroom chaos. That’s where these 12 Lesson Extender activity cards come in handy. Each game and activity is fast, simple, educational and engaging. They’re the perfect addition to any teacher’s “toolbox.” Each taps into language arts, math and critical thinking skills to challenge and engage students in short bursts of time.

Back-Up Lesson Plans

We’ve all suffered through interruptions, technology failures, and other obstacles that serve to drive a lesson right off the rails. In those moments, we could all use a back-up plan. Here's a FREE collection of five ofmy favorites:

Learning On the Go --- Make the most out of every instructional minute with “Learning on the Go.” When a fire drill or other classroom interruption stops a lesson in its tracks, pass out the “Learning on the Go” activity sheet and keep students learning outside the classroom.

Stump the Student --- Sometimes even the best lessons end early. Stump the Student gives students an opportunity to review the lesson’s instruction while creating questions for peers and answering questions about the day’s instruction. It’s instructional and engaging!

Technology Debate --- Technology can be an incredible resource in the classroom…until it doesn’t work. Working through technology issues in front of a classroom of students can lead to a management nightmare and a loss of instructional time. That’s where this Technology Debate activity comes in. It’s an activity that gets kids thinking and promotes targeted group discussions. Students can be working on this while you work on solving the tech issues in your classroom.

Behavior Cards --- Behavior cards are a simple and nonverbal management tool. One set acknowledges good behavior, and the other set redirects misbehavior. The “Keep It Up” cards are designed to positively recognize good behavior in the classroom. The “Stop” cards are perfect for encouraging students to stop inappropriate behavior and make a better choice. They’re simple and effective!

Let’s Get Focused --- Instructional interruptions happen. Whether it is a fire drill or a student council presentation in the middle of class or school-wide intercom announcements….oftentimes it’s important to regroup before moving forward with a lesson. That’s where the “Let’s Get Focused” worksheet comes in. It’s adaptable to any situation and a perfect way to refocus students after an interruption.

Find a bunch more FREE resources to stock up on this summer HERE.  Have fun looking them over, and head back here for Day 9 of our summer series!

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

P.S.  Check out these tips for making your next school year easier, too!  Tip 1Tip 2Tip 3Tip 4Tip 5Tip 6Tip 7

Tip #7 for Making Your Next School Year Easier

As you may know, curriculum is not my only gig. I also get to engage my creative side through my home staging side business. Just as furniture placement is key in selling a home, figuring out just where things should go in a classroom is pretty important, too. Good classroom flow means students know just where to put their materials, and themselves, in an orderly, efficient manner – saving you buckets of teaching and clean-up time.

Also essential, in both my lines of work, is the creation of a warm, welcoming environment. This can be achieved in plenty of simple, budget-friendly ways. Summer is the perfect time to transform your classroom and 
A great way to spend a summer Saturday is to check Craigslist and scour garage sales to find inexpensive organizational systems, and use your imagination to figure out ways to repurpose household items. Know of someone who’s retiring? See if you can inherit any of the supplies that teacher no longer needs. He or she may feel better knowing it’s going to a good home – and not cluttering the basement.

Check out these two fun classroom decor ideas...

Here's an old row boat turned into a cozy reading nook.
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And check out how electrical spools can transform into seats.

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If your time and budget allows this summer, you can craft any number of items to beautify your classroom, or take advantage of the sales for college-bound students. That’s a great time to grab plastic totes, filing systems and baskets.

My favorite classroom decoration is student work. But you’ll need something else on your walls until you have a ready supply of that. I’ve come up with a quick and easy solution, with my inspirational posters and writing prompt activity. 

I'll be back soon with another tip to make your next school year easier.  Until then, thanks for stopping by!

Mary Beth

P.S.  Check out these tips for making your next school year easier, too!  Tip 1Tip 2Tip 3Tip 4Tip 5Tip 6Tip 7Tip 8Tip 9, Tip 10

Tip #6 for Making Your Next School Year Easier

Welcome back to the blog series, 10 Things To Do This Summer To Make Next Year Easier! As you reflected on your teaching (see Day 2), were you wondering what you could do to step away from the lectern and put your students in the driver’s seat?  I know, that for me, I'm always looking for fun ways to engage my future students.  That's why Tip #6 it to 

My favorite way to do just that is to plan learning centers (or learning stations).  They are by far the very best way to get students actively involved in their learning, especially in the ELA classroom.  However, they do require a certain amount of foresight and planning; if you leave the creation of your centers until the last minute, you’ll definitely exhaust yourself and could end up with a management disaster. A well-executed center is pretty much student-run… if you set clear expectations and give your students the proper tools to take charge of their learning.

Since these can be time-consuming to compile, I’ll make the case (once again) that summer offers a nice opportunity to think ahead and gather the materials you’ll need for successful centers.  If you're implementing centers into your classroom, here are some of the most essential components:

--- 5 targeted-learning activities (so students can rotate to lots of centers)
--- Center labels (so students know where to go)
--- Extremely detailed directions (so students know what to do)
--- An evaluation tool (so that you can hold students accountable for their learning)
--- Hands-on activities (so students stay engaged at each center)

If you're looking for some turn-key learning centers resource that will save you all the time planning and keep your students engaged during your next school year, you can check out these from my shop:

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

Hungry for more Tips to Make Your Next School Year Easier?  Check out these:

Tip #5 for Making Your Next School Year Easier

Some districts give teachers planners or calendars as a thank-you. As an avowed planner/calendar person, I always view this a welcome gesture. I enjoy filling it in and seeing how my year is going to shape up. There’s something about chunking the school year into seasons, units, weeks and daily lessons that’s comforting to me. A roadmap in hand also makes the start of the school year a little less daunting, because once the daily grind kicks in, it can be a real challenge to find time for thoughtful, long-range planning.

That's why tip #5 for making your next school year easier is to

This summer, take advantage of some of your free days to get a head start on planning your first units.  

If you have access to a copy machine, you might want to get your copying started, too. With all this planning ahead of time, September should be a breeze – and you can enjoy the summer breeze, too!

Looking for some ready-made units to get you through the start of the year? Here are some of my favorites:

Narrative Writing Unit:

In this detailed, CCSS-aligned, 10-day unit, students write personal narratives about an interesting experience that taught them a lesson. In their personal narratives, students will include key elements of narrative writing: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency and conventions. Through the study of a mentor text, pre-writing activities, draft guidelines, revision mini-lessons and guides, peer conferencing, and editing, students will write a powerful personal narrative. This Narrative Writing Unit can be taught at the beginning of the school year to learn about students and build a classroom community, or in conjunction with Open House. It’s versatile, though, so you can use it anytime –after a school break, or even at the end of the year!

Nonfiction Text Features Unit: 

This fun resource includes six engaging lessons about nonfiction text features that can set students up for a year of successful reading.  Each lesson and activity is designed to be hands-on and interactive.  Many of the elements that students create in the lessons can serve as a reference for them to use throughout the entire school year (match-up, search and find, guide book).  Four nonfiction texts about scientists are also included in this resource for cross-curricular integration.  This unit is not only fun, it's also jam-packed with ways for students to master nonfiction text features.

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

Ready for more? Check out these tips:  Tip 1Tip 2Tip 3Tip 4Tip 5Tip 6Tip 7Tip 8Tip 9Tip 10

Tip #4 for Making Your Next School Year Easier

It doesn’t seem to matter how many years I’ve been doing this. I still get the jitters leading up to the first day of school! For me, the best antidote for back-to-school anxiety is to plan, plan, plan. That way, you can be sure your new students will be happily engaged in constructive activities – and you won’t be stuck just reading classroom policies and procedures.

Summer is the perfect time to brainstorm fun, engaging ideas for that first day and week. Before you know it, you’ll be busy with setting up your classroom and attending meetings! That's why Tip #4 is to

I've found that the perfect formula for an awesome first day of school is:

1.  Something for students to do the second they walk into class
2.  An engaging get-to-know-you activity
3.  A creative way to go over basic classroom procedures
4.  A writing sample so that I can begin to learn about my students

You'll find a student survey, teacher interview activity, writing prompt, and fun icebreakers.  They're all designed to keep students engaged and actively involved in their learning from the first minute they arrive. Filled with the perfect combination of fun and community building, this resource will have your students excited about learning and becoming a part of your classroom.

For something a bit more comprehensive, here’s my Back-To-School Toolkit, with more than 80 pages of kid-tested and teacher-approved resources for classroom organization, first week of school activities, classroom management, and other materials you can use all year long.
You’ll get:

- Tracking Logs and Forms
- First Week Activities
- Management Resources
- Sample School-Start Documents
- PLUS, 12 pages of BONUS MATERIALS and links to freebies!

As you can tell, planning brings me a lot of comfort during the long days of summer! In fact, I'll be going into detail about planning entire units in the next part of the 10 Things To Do This Summer To Make Next Year Easier series.

Until then, thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth 

There's more tips where this came from!  Check out Tip 1Tip 2Tip 3Tip 4Tip 5Tip 6Tip 7Tip 8Tip 9, and Tip 10!

Tip #3 for Making Your Next School Year Easier

It’s summer. By now, you’ve been to the library or filled your Kindle with all sorts of juicy, vacuous beach reads. You may be ready for something a little more... meaty.

Number 3 on the 10 Things To Do This Summer To Make Next Year Easier: Read something that builds your teaching knowledge and 

It’s not uncommon for teachers to fall into a rut: We find a formula that works, and we stick to it. The problem? We may get bored. Or, our teaching may not be reflective of the latest research and trends.

If your school district has a Teacher Center or professional development coordinator, this can be a great place to start to look for resources. You can also peruse your local Barnes & Noble, library or even your colleagues’ classroom shelves. That’s where I found some of my favorites, including Kelly Gallagher’sReadacide and Nancy Atwell’s In the Middle.

Be sure to check out TED-Ed, a branch of the famous TED Talk organization; it offers videos sure to help you find a fresh take on your teaching practice. Other sources for inspiration include websites like Pinterest and Edutopia. An Edutopia-recommended reading list for teachers can be found HERE.

In the summer I like to take my professional development outside.  Here's my favorite backyard spot to read and learn during the summer months...

Be sure to check back soon for Part 4 of 10 Things To Do This Summer To Make Next Year Easier.

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

P.S.  Find more tips here:  Tip 1Tip 2Tip 3Tip 4Tip 5Tip 6Tip 7Tip 8Tip 9Tip 10

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