#1: Getting Mentally Prepared and Focused (Back-to-School Countdown)

Editor’s Note: Find the full 10-Day Back-to-School Countdown here.

In This Vlog with Sarah Brown Wessling:

This is it! I filmed this vlog the night before school started for me, and even after 17 years of teaching, I still have the same feelings: I’m excited, anxious, worried that I haven’t done enough, or that I’ve chosen the wrong direction. There’s a truth here about teaching for me: there’s no amount of work that can make me feel fully prepared for what is inevitably — and gloriously — unpredictable.

It’s just part of the culture of “getting in shape” for the year. I have to have a mental toughness and a tolerance for ambiguity. I know the plan won’t work in the ideal way I’ve designed it (that, I can count on), and I have to think about my own growth mindset as a way to foster that culture of learning.

So before the first day comes, I’d like to keep us thinking:

  • Instead of lamenting about never having enough time (which I’m never immune to), how can we reframe how we think about the time we have?
  • How do we prepare for the unpredictable?

I wish you all a wonderful first days of teaching!

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10 Resources for Setting Up Your Classroom

Given how much time teachers spend in their classrooms, it’s like a home away from home. This year, design a classroom that is comfortable, inspiring, and promotes learning. We’ve curated a list of resources with ideas to make this process fun!

1. Check out three suggestions from Teaching Channel’s own Lily Jones on how to organize an efficient classroom.

2. See classrooms from around the country in Edutopia’s Five-Minute Film Festival.

3. Consider partitioning your classroom into seven learning zones to help establish routines and save time throughout the year.

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Evaluating Lessons: Tips for Calibrating Group Feedback

My bet is if we place fifty educators in a room with a rubric and piece of student writing, we’re likely to come back with numerous different scores on that piece of writing, and we’re likely to notice a variety of interpretations of the rubric’s criteria as well. However, if we have a shared understanding and we calibrate with one another on the use and interpretation of the rubric, then the rubric becomes truly effective in informing our instruction and improving student learning.

Improved student learning is exactly what drives those of us who serve on the EQuIP Review Panel. (Watch our video series on how teachers evaluate lessons with Achieve’s EQuIP rubrics.) When we first began working together, we calibrated on multiple lessons as a large group, before beginning to review Common Core aligned lessons and units individually and in small groups. Since you, too, strive for improved student learning in your classrooms, we thought it might be useful to offer a few tips and suggestions for you to consider when you use the EQuIP tools in your own professional learning communities.

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#2: First Day Game Plan (Back-to-School Countdown)

Editor’s Note: Find the full 10-Day Back-to-School Countdown here.

In This Vlog with Sarah Brown Wessling:

Today I’m wondering: What am I going to teach? Not the syllabus, not the rules, but teach. I’m wondering: What’s the learning purpose? I know there is a difference between the surface curriculum and the real curriculum. In other words: What we do on the first day will speak more powerfully to the culture of the classroom than anything I say.

Some of things I’ll be doing on the first day:

1. Choose not to talk about rules and routines.

2. Model a learning experience immediately.

3. Establish that we’ll be learning together.

4. Help them see that we’re going to capitalize on the natural struggles of learning, because that’s how we’ll learn to think.

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#3: Creating Trust and Security with Your Students (Back-to-School Countdown)

Editor’s Note: Find the full 10-Day Back-to-School Countdown here.

In This Vlog with Sarah Brown Wessling:

Culture is’’t something I can dictate, but I can influence and lead. In order to create the trust and security necessary to help a student engage in an experience, there are some questions I need to ask:

  • What do I want/need to know about my students now? How will I get to know them in those first days?
  • How will this impact my planning?

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#4: Establishing a Purposeful Culture (Back-to-School Countdown)

Editor’s Note: Find the full 10-Day Back-to-School Countdown here.

In This Vlog with Sarah Brown Wessling:

Today, let’s think about how having a purpose impacts culture and drives student achievement. (You can check out some great teacher thinking about this in our Dan Pink book chat archive.)

How can we make sure our classrooms have meaningful work? What are the learning dispositions that you value?

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#5: Thinking About Physical Space (Back-to-School Countdown)

Editor’s Note: Find the full 10-Day Back-to-School Countdown here.

In This Vlog with Sarah Brown Wessling:

How do I create a learning space that becomes another home for my students? What do I want the classroom to look like? Why? How will the physical layout support the learning purpose and classroom culture goals?

Here are some of the ways I’m thinking about our space and how it will affect our classroom culture:

  • I organize my students’ desks in my classroom in either a circle, half circle or in pods so they can talk to each other.
  • I’m starting the year with blank walls. As students create new work, it will be put up on the walls and serve as a record of our year.

Your Turn:

1. Think about a poignant experience you’ve had and how the role of physical environment contributed to your entire experience. Please share your story in the comments section below.

2. Read our most recent #TchLIVE chat archive. It was all about building classroom culture.

Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Sarah on Twitter – @SarahWessling.

Creating a Positive School Climate After a Tragedy: Tchers’ Voices from Ferguson

Editorqs Note: As many of us were starting to feel back-to-school excitement, a tragic story was unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, by a police officer on August 9th, set off civil unrest that brought in the Missouri National Guard, and soon after, the decision to delay the start of school. As this community, raw and emotional, returns to school this week, Teaching Channel is very grateful to the faculty of Parker Road Elementary in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. They have shared with us how they plan to help their community heal. And keep reading… at the end of this blog, we have some resources to help you address this national tragedy at your school, with your teachers, families, and students.

Ferguson child

Photo Credit: Laurie Skrivan/MCT for The Kansas City Star

From Tragedy… to a United Community 

Janelle, 3rd grade teacherJanelle Clasquin — Third Grade Teacher at Parker Road Elementary

A start to a normal school year is filled with stress, anxiety, and definitely excitement — I can never get a good night’s rest the day before school begins. The shooting tore through us all emotionally, and I think it is safe to say that the first days of school at Parker Road Elementary will feel different than any other year.

I will be honest, I am not sure what to expect come Monday morning. Community-building will be essential as we get back to normalcy, both at school and at home. Community is one thing that our school does not lack. Walking through the hallways at Parker Road, you will always find teachers and personnel with smiles on their faces and that sense of belonging. Our school community is strong, caring, and fearless. I believe there is strength in our differences and we are all stronger together.

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“Show Off Your Classroom” Photo Contest and Giveaway! It’s On!

Show off your classroom

Join our “Show Off Your Classroom” photo contest and giveaway on Facebook. CONTEST EXTENSION: Submit a photo through September 8th. We will announce the winners on September 10th. Here’s how it works:

1. Submit a photo of your awesome classroom on Facebook. Tell us how your classroom setup helps students learn.

2. Vote up to once a day for your favorite photo. And keep voting! You only need 10 votes to qualify for a prize. Tell your friends – they can vote too!

3. Share the contest: #MyClassroom. Help other teachers set up for a successful school year by sharing these awesome classroom photos.

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#6: Instructional Design: Have Conversations with Your Colleagues (Back-to-School Countdown)

Editor’s Note: Find the full 10-Day Back-to-School Countdown here.

In This Vlog with Sarah Brown Wessling:

An important practice as we’re designing our course is to talk to our colleagues and get their thoughts on how to make our big ideas relevant to students. What do I do because of that conversation? How am I mapping out the learning?

In talking to my colleagues, I’ve been reminded of these important ideas:

1. Ask students to push their personal limits

2. Give students an iterative assignment that builds through the course

3. Be patient and kind to myself as I plan my course

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