MiddleWeb’s Back to School Resources
Updated July 2019
Quick Help: If you only have time to read two articles, try this post by “It’s Not Easy Being Tween” blogger Cheryl Mizerny. What your new middle school students want most on the first days of school are the answers to these 7 questions. And be sure to visit this “Class Apps” blog post by Curtis Chandler: How Can We Improve the First Days of School? It’s sure to add joy and enthusiasm to those first days.
More time? Try this collection of recent back to school posts by MiddleWeb bloggers and guest writers.
If you are still in denial about the brevity of summer break, you’ll likely identify with a few of the experiences featured in Meghan Mathis’s 25 Reasons You Might Be Freaking out Right Now if You’re a Teacher at the End of Summer Break But You’re Not Done with Summer Yet! at WeAreTeachers.
The VlogBrothers offer a funny and ultimately inspiring 4-minute answer to “why bother with school” in this YouTube video: An Open Letter to Students Returning to School (in this case, public school). It can function just as well to further quicken teacher heart rates as schools re-open around the country.
That urge to get moving is often accompanied by a swarm of butterflies circling in teachers’ stomachs. I still remember one of my pre-first-day dreams that featured desks all neatly nailed to the ceiling. Fortunately they weren’t yet occupied by eager eighth graders. Roxanna Elden can help you “interpret” your nightmares in this MiddleWeb article. (It turns out students have back-to-school dreams, too. Here‘s what Peter Gray PhD found in a survey.)
Edutopia blogger and 15-year teacher Nicholas Provenzano recalls his yearly bouts with those nervous twitches of uncertainty that hit not long before the school doors opened. And he offers four suggestions to banish those butterflies, starting with being prepared and not being a control freak. If you have vivid pre-school recollections (or dreams!), please share them in the comments.
Jessica Lahey, a New England teacher, speaker and author, borrows ideas from The Happiness Project to help ground teachers for the months ahead. She suggests students as well as their teachers can benefit from these axioms: be yourself but at the same time act the way you want to feel, be grateful, think more about the moments of learning than the final results, and look to colleagues for help.
Setting the Stage for a New School Year
Transforming that empty space into a room where kids will feel welcome can be fun or formidable, depending upon your view of interior design and the resources you can bring together.
Writing at her Tween Teacher blog, Heather Wolpert-Gawron outlined her nuts and bolts and ant spray regimen for reinvigorating her room. Between the laughs (and a couple of defunct links at the top), you’re likely to find lots of ideas to apply immediately. She touches on the pedagogy behind design decisions in a MiddleWeb interview (Question 2) based on her book Tween Crayons and Curfews: Tips for Middle School Teachers.
Scholastic also has lots of ideas in its collection of articles for launching the new year.
Putting Out the Welcome Mat
Who will be coming in your door? Upper elementary kids who are still thinking concretely? Slightly older kids who suddenly aren’t themselves, sometimes feeling childish and other times wanting to be treated as adults? How you greet them will vary. For students moving up to middle school, their days will likely be radically different.
Teacher/bloggers Edna Sackson and Stephen Davis explore the transition from elementary to middle school by drafting imaginary letters from an elementary student to a middle school teacher and from the teacher back to the student. The exchange catches the child’s tentativeness and the teacher’s reassurance, comparing a simple carnival to a more complex amusement park.
In Five Practices for Building Positive Relationships with Students, TLN blogger Kelley Clark has suggestions for establishing relationships with high school students. They should work with younger kids, too, starting on the first day of class. She includes ways to put those first-day student surveys to work through the year and techniques to assure students that she is aware of their concerns. Carol Cummings shares detailed suggestions for Bonding and Connecting with students in Chapter 2 of her book, Winning Strategies for Classroom Management. The chapter is offered at no charge through ASCD.
Turning to what students have to say for themselves, Donna De La Cruz in the NYT writes about teacher Kyle Schwartz’s book, I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything For Our Kids. Over 400 adults responded with looks back to their school days. At an earlier NYT Learning Network article, today’s students have their say. The central theme was the desire to be seen as individuals with strengths and weaknesses, talents and preoccupations.
Day 1 and Counting
What to do when they walk in the door? Writing in Ed Week, Tucson middle grades teacher August (Sandy) Merz III will get his students into their seats by having them work together. For five days, they will compare heights, birthdays and more to build collaborative interaction and give Merz an opportunity to observe them. Building on what he learns about the group, he will assign permanent seats using what he calls (in a second article) Power Seats and Safe Zones.
Once students find seats, teachers can unpack their favorite activities to acclimate them to their new surroundings. In response to a question from the Powerful Learning Practice blog, commenters suggested introducing kids interactively to Skype, Twitter and Edmodo, hosting collaborative table-top construction with easy-to-access materials, and more.
In lesson plans especially for upper elementary kids, the NCTE’s Read Write Think suggests having students recall events in their lives — younger kids concentrating on summer and older ones on previous years. RWT provides a graphic map so kids can record their memories and feelings about them. At Scholastic Nancy Letts highlights practices from teacher Minty O’Brian as she introduces young kids to nonverbal cues and movement interspersed with conversation and writing to build a sense of competence and provide the security of structure on the first day.
Another kind of movement – stations – is recommended in this video by teacher Laura Randazzo.
Writing in her blog, Reflections of a Techie, middle school teacher Marsha Ratzel shares her plans to avoid setting up boring rules in her classes on day 1. She starts with a quiz on important numbers in her life and go on to the students’ important numbers. Then she pairs the kids as they use last year’s text to review, giving her an opportunity to see how they learn.
Edutopia provides a welcoming portal to its recent back-to-school blog posts.
Leading the Way
Principals have that high energy beginning-of-the-year experience, too. In fact, MiddleWeb’s Heart of the School blogger Rita Platt moved from the library to the front office last fall. She considered how that shift would affect her relationship to co-workers and her leadership practice in Becoming Our School’s New Principal. A year later she’s back with Lessons and Reflections: My 1st Year as Principal.
At the Connected Principals blog, NH elementary principal Bill Carozza offers 15 Tips for the New Principal. Though targeting newcomers, his list should also be a useful go-to post for veterans across the middle grades. Once you land at Connected Principals, you’ll find other posts catching the challenge and excitement of the new year such as 8 Principal leadership tips for the new year… by Justin Tarte.
It’s a New Year for Parents, Too
Catch parents and other caregivers’ attention by having them write ‘1 Million Words or Less’ on what they would like for you to know about their children. You can get a view of the range of parent responses and variations on the theme from a MiddleWeb Classic conversation. The 2003 listserv chat was populated by a group of insightful folks, many of whom had tried the Million Words tool in a variety of different school settings and contexts.
When it’s time for Parents Night, visit Marsha Ratzel’s detailed essay on preparing for and staging the event. And if you need strategies to make your first one-on-one (or two) parent/care giver conferences successful for you and for parents and guardians, see this Educational Leadership article by two Syracuse University professors. They describe an effective conferencing model and provide guidelines and suggestions. (Responding to a parent whose child is being bullied is central to the essay, so helpful specifics for conferring on bullying are included.) School counselor and educator Signe Whitson reminds parents of the social and emotional skills they can help their children learn in Getting Your Kids Ready to Go Back to School: An Insider’s Look at What Teachers Really Want from The Huffington Post.
More super sources
At his Classroom Q&A blog at Education Week Larry Ferlazzo has collected posts on great ways to start the new school year here. Find several years of Back to School resources at his Websites of the Day blog.
A Click Away at MiddleWeb
For resources useful to new teachers and veterans alike, visit MiddleWeb’s New Teacher? Here’s Hope and Inspiration. We also recommend this MiddleWeb Classic – Newbies: A Week with Rick – resurrected from our old website. It’s a week-long chat between middle grades author Rick Wormeli and a group of teachers, filled with practical advice about nitty gritty topics like pencil sharpening, homework, grading, and seating arrangements.