Your First Few Weeks Back at School: Are You Doing These Six Things?

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati (a former student of mine, and a key illustrator in my book). You can e-mail her at popslittlespace@gmail.com if you’d like her to do some beautiful illustration work for you!

So you’ve been at school for a short while. You’ve settled in, got to know some (maybe all?) of your new students and are using the school’s new systems. You’re hopefully getting settled in and used to the new routine.

That’s great!

This article is designed to be a self-check for you – to see if you’re on track and doing the very best things you can do to be effective as you start the academic year. 

#1 Professional Intelligence Gathering

A large part of your time has probably already been spent trying to get to know your new students. I’ve personally just started at a brand new school, so all of my new students really are, well, new. 

A good way to quickly get to know your kids is to do some professional intelligence gathering. I wrote about this last week, so hopefully, you’ve already got your notebook set up! ;-D

Marking work

To cut the explanation short, you should get a notebook and keep all non-confidential information about each student you teach in there. Write down their dreams, aspirations, hobbies, ECAs, talents and significant events that have occurred, or that are coming up in their lives.

alphabetic mat

This information can then be used to generate good professional rapport – the key cornerstone of all great teaching. Kids will learn most effectively when they like and respect their teachers. There’s only one way to get your kids to like and respect you – build up a rapport with them.

Use your professional intelligence to:

  • Strike up conversations with your new students during lessons when activities are happening or even at impromptu times such as when you’re on duty or walking around school. This will show that you’re interested in their wellbeing and that you remember what they’ve said. Kids and young adults love being listened to and, deep-down, they all want to recognised and admired for their skills and abilities. 
  • Inform your lesson planning by dividing the class into skills groups for activities, or even link the hobbies and interests of your kids to the content. 
  • Speak with students when they slip up or fall behind. I remember once having a one-to-one conversation with a 17 yr old boy who wanted to be a restaurant manager one day. His attitude and focus had been slipping in class, so I had a one-to-one chat with him. I reminded him of the dream and goal he once told me – that he wanted to be a restaurant manager. The effect was profound and deep, and he quickly put himself back on track. 

#2 – Settling-In Assessments

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“The book that transformed my teaching!”

If you’ve got new kids doing new courses, then you’ll need to know their strengths and weaknesses.

I recently gave my IB Year 12 Chemistry students a full IGCSE exam to act as a baseline test for the course. It allowed me to quickly identify students who needed help so that I could start tutoring and support measures to get these kids up to the right standard. It also helped me to see who the high flyers are so that I can prepare suitable extension work to push these high-achievers. 

Get some kind of assessment done at the start of the year. It will provide valuable intelligence which you can use to inform your lesson planning and feedback. 

#3 – Extra Curricular Activities

Getting involved in your schools ECA programme is a great way for you to get to know your kids, some of which you may not teach in your mainstream curriculum. It also sets you aside as a contributor to the school community, which reinforces the level of trust that your students will have in you (and you’ll need to build trust quickly if you’re at a new school, or teaching new kids). 

robot

Think of things that the kids will enjoy and benefit from:

  • Sports 
  • Languages
  • Special certification courses (e.g. CREST Award, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, St. John’s Ambulance First Aid, etc.)
  • Crafts
  • Music 
  • ICT clubs (e.g. coding, animation, game design, app building)

#4 – Marking 

Not everyone’s favourite but, nevertheless, a staple for the new teacher at a new school. Last week I wrote about how your first few weeks should involve slightly more teacher-led marking than peer, automated or self-assessment because:

  1. You’ll quickly get to find out about your kid’s strengths and weaknesses (e.g. classwork presentation, homework completion, creativity, numeracy, language proficiency) which can all go into your professional intelligence notebook?
  2. You’ll learn new names more quickly
  3. It’ll give the parents a good impression of you when they see your comments on their kids’ work
  4. It can be used as a POWERFUL opportunity to provide sincere and meaningful praise, which will empower your students right from day one

Read my blog post here about marking and assessment strategies if you’d like some advice or ideas for ways to implement this key strategy. 

#5 – Have Energy

Are you pumped up for every lesson? Do your kids see you as enthusiastic and upbeat, or just an old bore?

be enthusiastic

Sorry for the direct statement, but it is important to make the point that ENERGETIC TEACHERS MAKE THE BEST TEACHERS.

Of course, you’ll be adjusting your activities and intensity to suit each year group (post-16 kids need more content delivered per unit time than younger kids, for example), but your energy should be high every single lesson.

Here are some tips for you to create high-energy lessons, every time:

Play Games

I mentioned some learning games last week that will help you to get to know your students (‘Mystery Word’, ‘Splat’ and ‘Who Am I’), but there are so many that you can play on a regular basis.

Here is a high-energy clip of me playing some learning games with my kids in China:

I’m currently in Week 6 at my school and my kids are already trained up and loving a variety of games that I play with them. They’re all easy to do, are inexpensive, provide deep learning and keep the students interested and focused. 

As well as the games I mentioned last week, try the following high-energy lesson transformers!:

The Poster Game

Possibly the most fun and competitive game I’ve ever invented for teaching new content. You’ll need space for the kids to walk/run, and the game does take some prep. However, once you (and your students) become used to playing this game you’ll find that it’s a doddle to set up in no time at all.

Poster game page 1poster game page 2Poster game page 3

Bingo

Got some equation symbols or mathematical problems to teach your kids? Perhaps the symbols of the periodic table is more your thing? Whatever it is, this simple game can be adapted to suit any subject.

Bingo

Vocabulary Musical Chairs

You’ll need a good rapport with your kids to use this one, as it needs to be controlled really well by the teacher (e.g. to avoid kids bumping into each other). However, it is simple, fun and worth the effort!

Vocabulary musical chair

Mystery Picture

This one takes some imagination on the part of the teacher and some training of the kids beforehand. However, it’s really, really good for encouraging higher order thinking skills.

Mystery pictures

Be Eccentric

You’ll come across as boring and monotonous if you aren’t, well, yourself. 

You don’t need to put on a fake persona. Be wacky and quirky and be yourself (just don’t break any school rules – obviously).

One thing I love to do is sing and rap to my kids. They love it! I also use voice inflexions and funny noises to make the content a bit light-hearted and funny. It loosens up the mood in the room and gets the kids giggling a bit.

One thing that I’m a big fan of is modelling. No, not the cosmopolitan cat-walk modelling, I mean getting your students to BECOME THE CONCEPT YOU’RE TEACHING.

Just last week I had my kids stood in circles and spinning, pretending to be electrons orbiting a nucleus. The week before they were spreading around the room randomly pretending to diffuse like gas or liquid particles would.

The possibilities for modelling are endless. Here are some ideas that can be applied to any subject:

Human numbers.jpg

Human graph and true or false.jpg

Memory Mind bender.jpg

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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