Starting the School Year on the Right Foot

Written by Orlee Krass, Matan’s Director of Education

classroomAs another new school year gets underway, we can commit ourselves to ensuring that every student has the opportunity to grow and achieve. Here are nine tips for making every classroom a welcoming, positive space for academic success.

1. Begin the year with ice breakers and get-to-know you games.

Learning is important, but relationships are essential. Establishing the classroom as a safe space where everyone is valued lays the ground work for everything else you hope to accomplish together. It is as critical to build positive relationships between students as it is for teachers and students to get to know one another.

2. Comfort is key!

Classrooms should be comfortable spaces where students feel at home. Environmental design research shows the positive effect that comfort can have on learning, human productivity, and creativity. People learn best when they feel safe and known. If a student is afraid a response to a question or problem is not acceptable, he or she will not function at the highest level.

3. Structured classroom procedures can keep disruptions to a minimum.

Students with special needs tend to do best with consistency and structure. Without structure they often end up misbehaving. Classrooms procedures take a bit more time and effort to implement at the beginning of the school year, but once they are established they create a structure that allows teachers to focus on teaching rather than disruptive behaviors.

4. Students learn differently.

Often classrooms are set up with one learning style in mind. Worksheets and flashcards do not work well for all students! If a student learns best visually, a flashcard or worksheet may work for them, but for a student who learns best by hearing, using these traditional methods of teaching force him or her to use a physical sense that is not well developed. If teachers begin the school year armed with the knowledge that students learn differently, they will be better prepared to create lessons in such a way that they are able to activate all senses throughout their lessons.

5. Allow time for preparation.

There is no short cut for preparation. While the time invested up front may be significant, it can and will pay off as the year unfolds.

6. Communicate with parents.

Learning all you can about a child up front and honoring that a parent knows his/her child best will lay the groundwork for a healthy parent-teacher partnership. Keep in mind that being the parent of a child with a special need can be an emotionally charged experience. Respect for one another and open communication will help reduce tension and allow parents and teachers to benefit from each other’s expertise and knowledge of the child. Effective communication between parents and teachers ultimately benefit the child’s overall academic success.

7. Collaborate with colleagues

Teachers often think that they should have all of the answers for all of their students. This is just not the case. Do not be afraid to ask for help and to consult with other teachers who work with the same children. These multiple perspectives will round out a child’s academic experience and the collaboration will help you to improve as a teacher.

8. Help students to develop social skills.

Some students in your classroom may lack various social skills. It is important to help them learn these social skills as their use is needed in nearly every aspect of their lives. Take advantage of ‘teachable moments’ to teach social skills throughout the day. Some ways to do this include:

  • Using natural interactions between a student and adult to practice a skill; also known as incidental teaching.
  • Use social stories to teach social skills, they can demonstrate to students an appropriate script needed for a specific social situation.
  • Reading and discussing children’s literature and videos that explore the topic of social skills.

9. Self Evaluation

The more you improve as a teacher, the more your students will benefit in the long run. Although it is extremely difficult to critique your own strengths and weaknesses, it is extremely important. Once you begin your own evaluation process you will be able to recognize which areas need improvement so you can become more effective and find new ways to challenge your students each and every day.