Have you started thinking about settling your class back into school?
The routines and expectations of school can seem like the toughest challenge to try to settle back into for children after the holidays, especially now since we have had a prolonged break. This can be challenging for teachers too, when we have been out of routine and perhaps, like children, not sleeping or eating like we usually would be. This can also be daunting if you are like me this year and will be starting into a new class.
This year in particular, settling back into school will be a little different than usual with the extended holidays and remote learning. However, it is important to start thinking about what will be needed from you on returning to your classroom and settling the pupils back in. Always remember there will be many kids in your classrooms that will have missed school so much over the break. They will have missed seeing their teacher, seeing their friends and the exciting environment of their classroom space.
To help you with this, here are 5 tips for settling your class back into school:
1. Establishing new routines and taking things slow
As I have already mentioned, the holidays, followed by distance learning may mean a change in routine or loss of any routine, eating more sugary foods and less sleep than usual. When children return to school they may naturally be tired and may not be as enthusiastic or be able to maintain concentration or attention for a long period of time.
It is important, especially in the younger years, to re-establish routines or create new routines if you are the new teacher from the get go.
Routines such as:
As the pupil’s new teacher this year, I will be taking some of the pupil’s old routines and mixing them with my new ones too. It is important for the routines to work for you but also important not to change anything that is working well. For example, the class teacher had said that the seating chart was working excellently, as were the routines for stations, so these are two areas that I won’t be changing. If you have been the class teacher all year, it may be no harm to change seating around a bit, especially in the senior classes.
I will create a new rewards system, and usually change my rewards system up quite often to keep things interesting and fun. I also like to plan the rewards the pupils will get for winning each week with the pupils, or what the class will get as a reward for reaching a certain amount of points.
Here are examples of some rewards I have brainstormed with my class in previous years:
It may appear tedious, but it is important during the first few days back to consistently remind pupils of the routines as the day goes on. This may be important to do especially if you are a new teacher. Introduce your new routines, and then perhaps revise the existing ones as the day goes on. It is so important to get your routines established or reestablished from the start so the rest of your year flows smoothly.
2. Reflection Activities
Children will automatically start excitedly shouting out all of their news and recounting every little thing they got up to in hysteria! They will want to do lots of reflecting on the extended time at home, to hear everyone else’s news and of course yours too! For your first few days back, plan some nice reflection activities that may follow a template to fill in in the younger classes, or a recount writing exercise in the senior classes. This also gives me time to go around the room and have more one-to-one conversations with children, especially the quieter children or pupils with EAL, to hear any news they have and to see how they are doing.
Here is a nice lockdown reflection I found on Mrs Mactivity.
I also like to spend the first few days back, even though it is now long after New Years, reflecting on the previous school year and looking forward to the year ahead by getting back into goal setting. Goal setting is something I introduce at the beginning of the year and that my class does every week. They set SMART goals every Monday and review them every Friday. Even in 1st class this year, I plan to introduce goal setting to the pupils, even if it is orally and I will record them for them on a whole class chart.
Another reflection activity may be to reflect on the type of people we want to be this year, for example, how we should embrace being unique and never compare ourselves to others. A super book we read this year was “A Bad Case of the Stripes” which gave us the opportunities to do just that!
3. Re-visit rules or re-create rules with your class if you are starting in a new class
At the start of the year, in my class we would brainstorm the rules through different activities like ‘A good student is…’ and ‘A good teacher is…’ or ‘A good classmate is…’. When these activities are completed as a whole-class on the flipchart, we then create our class rules. This year we wrote the rules on an A3 sheet of paper, each child signed their name on a hand and I displayed the hands around the contract. There are so many ways of creating a display for your class rules. The important part is creating them with the pupils. As I am a new teacher this term, I will be recreating the class rules as I think this is important. If you are continuing with your class, you could revisit the rules and discuss ‘why’ each rule is important again.
See example from the Good Shepard National School:
4. Mental Health
In my classroom, I have a set time every day that I dedicate to mental health and wellbeing. Of course it is an ongoing focus throughout the day, but it is important to schedule that downtime, whether it is first thing in the morning, at any stage throughout the day, or after lunch break.
If you have never done this before, a book I will be covering with my class on our return before I introduce our feelings check-in is “The Great Big Book of Feelings”, you can find a read-aloud here.
I change the system for checking in depending on my class. I may introduce a numbers check-in where the pupils tell me a number at the start of the day and again at the end of the day between 1-10. We discuss prior to this what each number signifies and I can respond accordingly and support the pupils who need support throughout the day. I sometimes use emoji cups, or pegs too.
Having some mindfulness and mental wellbeing activities planned for the first few days gives you the opportunities to really get to know the pupils. After a few days with your new class when you have built a rapport, or if you have been the teacher all year, another activity that is nice to do with your class is ‘What I Wish My Teacher Knew…’. Each pupil writes one thing they wish you knew on a piece of paper and leaves it in a jar or a box for you to read.
I also have a ‘Wellbeing Copy’ which the children do all their mindfulness and mental health related activities in. This may be something you want to introduce after Christmas. I personally bought the copies and created my own covers for them. This allowed the pupils to decorate the front of their copy.
In my class, I have a wellbeing theme for each day of the week to keep things interesting and change up our activities each day. Check it out HERE.
On the first day back I like to do some revision of subjects and a recap of what was covered in previous terms. This year I will be starting in a new class, so I will play some games to revise sight words covered in previous months and also some maths and Irish games to get an idea of where the children are at. I will also do some assessments on topics we covered during distance learning.
This type of work eases the children back into school, and eases any worries or anxieties about their return to school as they will feel some sense of accomplishment on their return as they revisit material previously covered.
I like to do lots and lots of oral language on our return to school in both English and Irish. Oral language is prominent in my classroom at all times, so I like to really re-emphasise the importance of thinking and speaking before writing on our return to school.
I would suggest checking out this manual from the PDST ‘Five Components of Effective Oral Language Instruction’ for some guidance.
Hopefully this will give you some inspiration or guidance, and settle your nerves about returning to school after the extended break and distance learning. The most important thing is to have some nice activities planned and to know what aspects of revision you should cover by revising the plans from last term of what was covered. If you are starting with a new class, take your time getting to know the pupils and allow them time to get to know you. Have some nice ‘get to know you’ activities and games. This will really pay off in the long run. After this you can get into your plans for the month!
Best of luck with your return to school and settling back in, and a huge best of luck to anyone else starting a new job like me!
We’ve got this!