A new term is a time for refreshing and resetting!
In this episode, I give you a few helpful ideas for how best to prepare yourself and your classroom for a new term. Things like seating plans, classroom and hallway decorations, curriculum, and also your own expectations and connections with yourself, your colleagues, and your students.
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I was recently featured in Twinkl’s ‘Get Ready For Spring’ Campaign. Today’s episode expands upon the ideas I discussed there, but check out the article for even more tips and tricks!
Listen or read about the dangers of becoming complacent, and what to do about it, here.
While you’re planning your new content, don’t forget to check out the Random Activity Generator! Plenty of new ideas to try out with your class, regardless of the year level or content.
Not sure if you’re still happy with teaching, now that you’re coming into a new term? Check out part 1 and part 2 of my chat with Angela Wilson.
Hello folks. I have a nice short episode for you today. I am very aware that some of us are right in the middle of school holidays and that some of us are beginning the new term. So I don’t want to take up a heap of your time today, but I do want to share some ideas that will hopefully be of a lot of use for you in this time of transition.
A new term is dawning, shining it’s somewhat unwelcome light upon us. Holidays never seem long enough, do they? You get settled into a new routine. Do some cleaning, catch up with some friends, work on school, things that are much more leisurely pace. You get to see some more of your own kiddos. You get to use the bathroom whenever you want.
You get to have an actually hot cup of tea or coffee. Sometimes. All of these things can be a blessing and a curse all wrapped up together. But as you turn your gaze to the new term, I hope that you can see it with at least a little bit of welcome. A bit of curiosity, a bit of hope, a bit of joy. A new term is a time for refreshing and resetting.
I was recently featured in Twinkle’s Spring Campaign where I discussed ways that you can get yourself and your classroom ready for this lovely new season. I will link to the article in the show notes for you. I wanted to expand on some of the concepts that I wrote about in this episode today as I think it’s a very timely reminder of the power of new beginnings, of refreshing and resetting.
I’ve previously spoken about the dangers of getting complacent. It can lead you to feelings of boredom, unhappiness. It can impact the way that you interact with your colleagues, and it can also affect the way you teach. So the beginning of a new term is a great time to face that head on. The term breaks and Christmas break are perfect times to give yourself some grace, space and time to have a bit of a reset throughout different aspects of your professional life.
Our job is pretty unique in that we have these built in breaks, so you really can schedule this sort of thing in. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to add anything to your already overflow plate stack that’s balancing precariously on your head. Rather, these are things that you can casually look into.
And make the small but necessary adjustments as you move through your own personal process of prepping for the new term. This might look like a gleeful overhaul for some people and in some terms and a careful and measured small shift for other people. And in other terms, there is no right or wrong way to do this except perhaps to do nothing at all.
So the first topic I wanna talk about is a bit of a struggle for some of us. It’s the dreaded seating plan. Some people use them, some people don’t. That changes drastically between primary school and high school. I know in most senior subjects, for example, they don’t have a seating plan. And that comes with a bit of, you know, responsibility and respect and autonomy that we give to our senior students.
But of course, down in primary school, in some of those classes and in some of our special year nine classes, having a seating plan is a lifesaver. But now is the perfect time to assess what is and isn’t working for you. Cause remember, the seating plan is there for you as the teacher so that you can have some control and order and calm over your classroom environment.
But it is also there for the students so that they can get the best learning experience that they can. We all know that there are always gonna be some challenging students in our classes, and they do deserve an education as much as the rest, but they don’t have the right to. Disrupt the rest of the class to the point that nobody’s getting any learning done.
That’s not fair. A while ago, I did some research into the research of desk arrangement in classrooms, so I’ll link to that in the show notes for you to have a look at if you’d like to change around the physical layout of your room. But in terms of the students themselves, now’s a good time to have a quick skim through and notice what has changed with them over the past.
Your students will have grown, changed and adapted throughout the year so far, and they may work really well now in combinations that didn’t work so well before. Think about who haven’t worked well next to each other before and assess whether it might be worth trying. See if you can split up some dream teams to share the love around, Find some new corners to separate tricky combos, or think about even giving them a trial together with the condition that if they can’t make it work, then they’re split up again.
If you’re in high school, it’s probably worth having a chat with others who teach any student you’re particularly stuck on, and see if anyone has a combination or a layout that works well for them. You know your students best and you know how they’ve changed.
Try out something new and see if it works. Obviously, of course, all of this comes with the caveat that if your seating plan is working perfectly fine for you and your students, maybe you don’t change things around. But even if it is working perfectly fine, you may find some benefits for your students if you swap a few of them.
Getting the opportunity to work in different combinations can be really valuable to them. Just like us, students can get a bit complacent with their work and if they’re used to relying on the person next to them in a particular way, having someone else there and changing up the dynamic can force them to think about their learning in a different way and approach their learning in a different way, so that can be really valuable for them.
If you want to feed into the chaos a little bit, you could make it a free for all for the first week and see what dynamics play out and then go forward from there. I used to do that a lot in high school because it was one of the quickest way to see their personality shine through when you let them sit with who they want to sit with and where they wanna sit within the layout of the classroom, it can tell you a lot about them as a person and as a student, and you can use that in the future to create seating plans that are actually gonna be beneficial. You could randomize a seating plan through a spreadsheet and have it change up every single week.
I worked with a colleague who had this beautiful spreadsheet where you put all the layouts of the desks in and then you put the list of the student names and you click a button and it randomizes where they sit. And you can do that right in front of the student, so there’s no complaints because they can see that it’s actually randomized. Look, it’s completely up to you. Just don’t put yourself through the stress of a seating plan or lack thereof that just isn’t working for you or the students.
Okay, onto topic number two, classroom and hallway decorations. Some teachers are far more into this than others, and some have far more control than others. Primary school teachers, for example, have infinitely more control than high school teachers because they get their own room, whereas most high school teachers are moving around throughout the day, and even in the same subject, they can be in different rooms.
But because of this primary school teachers tend to have a lot more interest and ability in this area. A fresh new term is a great time to have a look at your classroom and your hallways. Remember that the research is actually showing that a less is more approach is more beneficial for our students, especially any who may have any sensory issue.
I distinctly remember walking into a classroom, and this was at a year one level, I think it was, that every single inch of spare space was absolutely crammed full of stuff. There were pictures, student work, student work from a few years ago. Uh, examples, charts. Rules. So many things hanging from the ceiling that you actually had to duck to move through the room.
It made me so incredibly uncomfortable and I could not get out of there fast enough. I honestly don’t know how any student could function effectively in that environment.
But on the flip side, your room doesn’t need to be a clinical wasteland. Just be specific, intentional, and logical about what you put on your walls and your ceiling and even your floor space. Display things that are actually useful for this term and this term alone, and remove anything that’s no longer relevant.
That is an unfortunate aspect of our education system, that term by term, we tend to drop the units and run. We move on to the next thing. But because that is our reality, it is useful to take down displays that don’t directly relate to the content that you’re teaching now. Now is the time to update any student work that’s around the room. Something that I love doing is actually getting the students to create the word walls and definitions and examples for the upcoming unit of work. I would then display them around the room for use throughout the term. Having the students create these pieces instead of using pre-made ones, really gives them a wonderful sense of ownership and gives them expert status on the topic of the poster that they’ve created.
Even if it’s a single word definition. I remember some year eight students making some little posters that gave the definitions and some examples of keywords in a physics unit that we were doing. And all through the term, whenever somebody asked, Oh, what’s this word mean? The person who created that poster was actually the first one to jump up and say, Oh, I know all about that, let me tell you. They really do get great pride out of being the expert on that tiny little aspect of the content. But it is also a good idea to keep some wall space clear so you can add to it as you move through the term. For example, you may find a new word or a new example that you’d like to have up there. Make sure that there’s room for that as well.
Things like bump it up walls have become quite vague recently, but there’s no point having them there. If your students haven’t explicitly and repeatedly been shown how to use them. Make sure you are gifting them the time throughout the term to use those types of resources effectively and make sure that they actually know how to do so.
Things like behavior posters are largely overlooked by students, but they are mandated by admin. So deal with that sort of thing, how you see fit. I’ve noticed they tend to be placed in less than prime real estate. They are of course, helpful for students to know their expectations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to be front and center where the students are going to constantly be looking.
It’s gonna be far more beneficial for them to have aspects of the new curriculum to be viewing rather than rules that they’ve been trying to abide by all year.
In terms of non curriculum things, displaying pieces of artwork shows your students that you’re really proud of their artistic creativity. Even things like short stories and poems can be printed and displayed for a term. Of course you can add in purely decorative items like giant flowers for spring.
Just make sure that they don’t end up causing overwhelm in a space that’s meant to be for learning. You don’t need to Instagram arise your classroom unless of course you want to. But it is nice to make it feel welcoming and a nice place for you yourself to work in and for your students to learn in. I know some teachers like to find choice memes or put up some random and pictures of their pet cats, for example.
And these can be really great for you, yourself as a human being in that workplace to bring you some joy and they can also act as little conversation starters between you and your students to help build up that positive relationship.
All right. The third topic for today is curriculum. Of course, the beginning of a new term will mean whole new units of work. I hope you are able to give yourself some time to get familiar with the content that you’ll be teaching this term so you can start to think about how you’ll approach it with your class.
Hopefully some time was given at the end of last term by your school, perhaps some time off class so that you can get used to the new curriculum. But I am well aware that some of you are currently laughing out loud at that. It’s wishful thinking, right? Anyway, a new unit is a fantastic time to pick up a new activity type, pedagogical approach way to present parts of the content.
It can really, truly help keep your teaching practice from going stale by picking out one new thing to try and committing to it for a good chunk of time. This is advice that I give to beginning teachers, but it’s relevant to all of us because it’s something we forget so easily.
Remember that any new activity will take a few goes before everyone gets in the groove. And just because you’ve done it a thousand times before and intuitively know how it works, doesn’t mean that your students will, You might need to explicitly teach them and then coach them through it. Once everyone’s got the hang of it, give it a few goes to see how it sits.
Don’t just give it one go on one day and never do it again. You might have just found a brand new activity. You and your class love in which case, carry on. Incorporate it more regularly into your routine. But you also might have just found something that absolutely does not work for you in your class, and that’s just as valuable to know.
You can look at adapting the activity or just wrap it completely and go in a different direction with something that might be more suited. Either way, it’s not a waste of time because you’ll never know if something will work well until you try it.
The last topic of discussion for today is to allow yourself a bit of a personal reset with this new. Give yourself and your students, and even your colleagues some grace. Try not to bring across any bad feelings from earlier in the year. Let your students, and yes, some of your colleagues, start on a relatively blank slate.
Remind yourself of their developmental capabilities and help yourself to see challenging behaviors in a more constructive light. I know that that can be really difficult to do, but I saw a brilliant post on Facebook the other day. And it really struck home for me. It said that when we only look at the behavior, we are looking for ways to punish or reward.
When we look at the cause or the reason behind the behavior, we can see the child who is there, and we are much better able to give them the help that they need. We don’t need to go in guns blazing with our challenging students. We need to go in with the knowledge. Particularly for the young ones, they literally don’t have fully formed brains yet.
That there is always a cause for their behavior. Sometimes that causes you, Yes, that’s the honest truth. Sometimes it’s something that you’ve done that set them off. More often than not, it’s got nothing to do with you, nothing to do with the school. Even Our job as the adult in the room is to hold space for our students, to guide them home, as Dr. Jody Carrington. On the flip side too, a new term is a great time to turn some of your spotlight on those forgotten kids. The ones who aren’t the gifted and talented, and they also aren’t the high flying behaviorists. I’m talking about the perfectly mediocre kids who get happily left to their devices because they get on with the work fine and they don’t cause any drama.
These kids are just as deserving of your time and space as the ones who need help with their emotions and the ones who are shining stars. Reset with them as well and find ways to connect. For example, when you have a quiet moment in your classroom, them some of your attention.
Instead of praising the kid who is finally doing the work like everyone. Or the kid who has finished way earlier than everyone else with perfect
Besides the students. Give yourself a bit of a reset, too. Ask for support for anything that has been a sticking point over the last term and see if you can resolve it. Have a look around for any professional learning you might like to explore in this last section of the year, and start thinking about where you’d like to be next year.
Do a little job crafting, if you will. I talked about that a few times with Angela Wilson, and sometimes I think we teachers forget how much control and power will we actually do have over our day to day.
If you have a particular passion, think of ways that you can bring it into your day or your week. It doesn’t have to look like taking on extra responsibilities, but it can bring you some joy.
So they have it. As I said, a nice quick episode for today. Hopefully it’s giving you some ideas for how to reset and refresh for a new term.
You can look at your seating plan. Think about the ways you present the curriculum, refresh your classroom and hallways, and also reset your connections and expectations with both yourself and your students. I hope this has been helpful for you.
If you think of more things that you like to do at the beginning of a new term, come and tell us in The Teacher Community by Staffroom Stories over on Facebook. I would love to hear your thoughts. Have a great day.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash