Getting back into the routine of a daily schedule can be tough at the start of every new new school year. After a summer break, making a shift in routines, the added responsibilities, and time commitments in our days can be tough at first. Educators and students have a lot on their minds like class schedules, assessments, and school events. Although there is a lot to consider, there are methods and tools that can help with the transition back to the school schedule.
When it comes to teaching, starting a new year and planning each day can still be a stressful experience regardless of the number of years in education. Educators are responsible for so much and engage in so many interactions with students, colleagues, and families every single day. To help with making decisions for our classrooms and finding new ideas, fortunately, we have options through professional development, PLCs, PLNs, and other ways to connect and learn from one another. Reaching out to our networks not only benefits us, but more importantly, it benefits our students. Educators can’t be afraid to ask questions, offer help, and share experiences with others.
Of course, we worry about covering the content and setting up our class procedures, but we need to focus on creating a supportive classroom community and building relationships first. Have some new ideas, methods, and digital tools in mind that you think will help to engage students in learning. Reflect on the prior year and think about how your classroom space helped students to build relationships and get to know one another. What methods or tools did you use that fostered student creativity and curiosity for learning? At the start of the year and as I reflect, these are some areas that I focus on. When it comes to methods and digital tools, always consider the “why” behind what I choose. What is the impact on student learning? Will it foster student-driven learning? How will it amplify student choice and voice in learning and better prepare them with future-focused skills?
Four ideas for the new year
Social-emotional learning skills are essential for students now and in the future. Think about methods that we can use to foster the development of SEL skills. There are a lot of options available for educators for all grade levels and content areas. When you decide on a method, then find digital tools that can amplify and facilitate those methods, adding even more benefits to the student learning experience.
A new school year is a perfect time to bring in new ideas and see how the students respond. Covering the content and making sure that students retain and can apply their knowledge in authentic and meaningful ways is important. When we implement methods and tools that facilitate this and also foster the development of essential SEL skills, our students will be prepared with the skills they need to be successful.
Connections: How do you get to know your students and how do they get to know each other? Try some no-tech methods like icebreakers such as “Would You Rather?” questions, “Three Truths and a Lie” or “5 Fun Facts About Me,” just for a start. Create opportunities for students to connect and build a collaborative and supportive space. We will see how it positively impacts the learning that happens in our classroom. Bring in some different digital tools and have students create an infographic for example using Buncee or Piktochart which offers a lot of templates focused on relationship building and SEL. An idea from last year that my students enjoyed was using Book Creator to make a class yearbook. Each student added a page or two about themselves and then could learn about classmates. These options work for in-person or virtual learning and help to build a supportive and welcoming classroom community.
Collaboration: One of the top 10 skills listed by the World Economic Forum on their Job Skills Outlook for 2025 is collaboration. Whether in the classroom or working virtually, we all need to be prepared to communicate and collaborate with others. Some of the digital tools that were highly beneficial during school closures and hybrid teaching were Flip and Spaces, which enabled me to connect with my students, with each other, and even with classrooms from around the world. Wakelet offers so many possibilities for collaborating and creating space for students to curate a digital portfolio, work with peers on PBL, and many more ways to use it for collaboration. Classtime is a tool we tried last year that focused on collaborative efforts to solve a challenge like air pollution, for example. Students enjoy working together as they respond to questions. Providing these digital spaces is a great way to help promote responsible digital citizenship skills and SEL skills at the same time. Different methods like station rotations and peer teaching also foster the development of collaborative skills. As we prepare students for the future, collaboration and teamwork are essential.
Creativity: When it comes to assessing students, offering choices in how they show what they have learned is important. We can use options like choice boards and hyperdocs or methods like a genius hour or PBL. Once we have decided on a strategy, then find tools that students can choose from to create and share their learning. For voice recordings, tools like Flip empower students with choice through the backgrounds and special effects they can add while helping students build confidence and comfort in speaking. For designing a presentation, options such as Canva, Elementari, Genially, or Storyboard all provide students with templates, choices, and many ways to make their experience more meaningful and personalized. With an option like Elementari, students can also build skills in coding.
Critical Thinking: Students need opportunities to build critical thinking skills and take the knowledge they acquire and apply it in different ways. They need to be able to evaluate and process information and then create a representation of what they have learned. Learning can be difficult and students will struggle at times with the content. By providing opportunities for them to build critical thinking and problem-solving skills, we will help them to work through these challenges and the productive struggle they experience. With STEM-based activities and curriculum, students can explore areas of interest, become curious, design challenges and solve problems.
There are many resources available for educators looking to get started with STEM. It can be based on emerging technologies like AR/VR and AI, or coding. Have students explore these topics and create something of their own to share their learning with classmates. With a full curriculum on topics like Computer Science from Defined Learning, resources about AI from AIClub, or STEM, and activities related to the SDGs from iBlocksPBL, students can focus on solving problems and applying their critical thinking skills to challenges presented with these options. Teachers will find it easier to get started with STEM-related topics in any classroom.
We want to spark curiosity and boost student engagement in learning and what better way than to address the skills students need by trying new methods and tools? There are many options available, however, to start, always consider the purpose. What are your goals for the start of the new school year? Set a few and work through them, reflect on the progress and be sure to involve students in the discussion too. We all learn from one another.
About the Author:
Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s Next in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was recently named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.