School is finally in session here in the Capital City and our students are busy settling in to new routines, earlier mornings, and getting to know their friends and teachers. When I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite things was to spend the first week getting to know my students, learning about their interests, getting their feedback on what they wanted their classrooms to look and feel like, and having them create digital collages and word clouds representing themselves.

Just as we can work hard to make our classrooms warm and welcoming, it’s incredibly powerful when an entire school gets involved and sets a theme for the year. One of the schools in our district – Sheridan Road STEM – embraced the theme of kindness this year, inspired by the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. In fact, the entire school is reading the book and doing a book study around it, the themes it represents, and embracing the idea of being open to others, being kind to all people, regardless of their appearance, circumstance, or background. What a powerful message for our young people to hear, especially in our current political environment.

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This is a powerful message that schools across the country are embracing and using to connect with others. Some of the things being shared on Twitter with #choosekind are incredibly inspiring. I personally haven’t read this book yet, but I am very excited to participate in the book study along with the teachers and students at Sheridan Road STEM. 

How will you #choosekind this year?


First Days of School

Back when I was still a classroom teacher, our principal always used to email us before school the wise words of Harry Wong – “You only get one first day of school!”

Such a simple message but really powerful and a wonderful reminder to all of us to strive to set the tone for the first day of school. How do we want students to feel when they walk into our classroom? How do we want to feel at the end of the day?

Building relationships is such a crucial part of establishing a culture of trust in our classrooms. Our students need to know the adults in their lives care about them and respect them as people and as individuals.

When I taught 8th grade, my partner teacher and I shared students; he had them for English and I had them for Social Studies. We did a block schedule Mon-Thursday and then on Friday we saw all classes. So, every quarter, on a Friday, we’d combine our classes and do some team-building activities that centered around validating students and their talents, and generating a stronger sense of community. Middle school students are so great; just on the cusp of figuring themselves out but still wanting to be a little kid every now and then. They want their independence, but they also want to fit in and often conform in order to do so. I loved seeing them grow and change throughout the year.

I know a lot of the teachers in our district are focusing on climate and culture the first week of school, and rightly so. Before you can expect people to work for you, they have to feel valued and respected. It’s important to model that all voices are important, all perspectives are welcomed, and acceptance rules the day. But it’s not only crucial in the first week of school, it’s important to revisit and remind throughout the year.

What are some of your favorite ways to build community in your classroom? How do you cultivate trust all year long?

First September…

I have to admit, this fall feels a little bit “off” for me. For the last five years, every end of August and early September has been dedicated to classroom preparation. From the exciting summer working with my mentor teacher before I began student-teaching, through the anxiety-ridden summer of job interviews, excitement over a job offer, and then the terrifying reality that *I* was going to be a teacher – the woman in charge – to the new challenges that each fall inevitably brought, I have always been working in a classroom. 

This year is different. This is the first September that I don’t have a classroom to decorate, no Open Houses to attend, no student names to learn and memorize, no “What was your favorite thing about summer” ice breakers to play… No longer assigned to one classroom space and 180 new students to get to know, I am facing a new challenge this year. As the brand-new Technology Integration Specialist, I will be working with almost 100 different teachers, over 500 students, and a variety of abilities. Sounds a lot like teaching, eh?! My role is to work with the Magnet Schools program, all of whom have either a STEM, STEAM, or Global Studies focus. While I definitely have a lot of challenges ahead of me, I am incredibly excited to work with educators and students again. 

So, while in some ways I am sad I don’t get to create a classroom theme, design a welcome packet with cute fonts and adorable cartoons, impress (or irritate) students with my love for U.S. Presidents, I am excited, too. Although, I do miss being able to justify purchasing an obscene amount of office supplies, I will get to interact with a variety of age groups, many of whom I have not worked with before. As a Secondary certified teacher, most of my experience has been with middle and high school students. I am anxious to work with younger kids and see their curiosity and open-mindedness at work. 

There is nothing better than the energy and enthusiasm in a school. I love that every year, educators get to set new goals – personal, professional, academic. It is like a fresh start every few months. Opportunities seem almost limitless, the ability to engage with and influence another group of young people is an awesome gift, and I love that teachers embrace that. One of the best parts of my job is going to conferences and listening to all the great things others are doing. It is inspiring! I can’t wait to play a role in helping other teachers get inspired. More importantly, I can’t wait to be awed and impressed with all the great teaching and learning that is happening in this community. 

Here’s to a great year, teachers! You are amazing. Thank you for all you do. 

Your Turn: 
Teachers, what is your favorite part of fall?

If you’re not an educator, what do you do to stay energized and refreshed at your job?