12 Tips For An Unprecedented School Year

Molly Collins

Meet The Author: Molly Collins

12 Tips For An Unprecedented School Year

How is everyone doing?! A loaded question these days, I know. 

I know the feeling of being overwhelmed, stressed, and flat out missing face to face interaction. If there is anything that I have learned throughout the past few months, it’s how much of a people person I am. And of course how much I  long for physical touch, conversation, and quality time with others. 

If you are reading this, you are most likely in the same boat, so hopefully, my trials and errors to the start of the school year can help you. 

It has been simply that: trial and error. I think it is important to remember that we don’t need to have it all together right away. Just like creating a culture takes time, creating a new classroom in this setting is hard and takes time. 

As long as we are taking feedback from other educators, students, and ourselves, we will get there. Here are some of the things I have learned in the past 4 weeks. First, 1-4 for your own personal sanity, then 5 -12 will be for the classroom itself.

1) Get Organized – Calendar 

Find what fits for you. It could be a whiteboard, a wall calendar, a planner, an online calendar…whatever works. Have something and keep it up to date. For me, I use a combination of them. Planner and Google Calendar for big ticket items, then a whiteboard for my to-do list. 

2) Take Time for Yourself – Advocate

You can not forget yourself during this craziness. Remember why physical activity and clean eating is essential in everyday life. If we aren’t going to practice what we are preaching, then what is the point? Even if it’s as small as a morning walk to kick off the day or an evening walk to recap the day. Make it a priority! 

3) Create a Small Change – Routine

I am still working on this myself. With the daily changes in the teaching schedule, it is hard for me to stay on track. Each week I find something I would like to change and do it for a week to see what I like within a new routine. 

For example, (and don’t laugh) but everyone tells their dentist they floss every day but let’s be real, does that happen?! So every night, I added flossing to my nightly teeth care routine, and yes, it has stuck. Now I feel so off if I don’t floss. 

Something so small, but makes me feel better and takes a minute to do. There are plenty of little things we can find for that self care that can go a long way! 

4) Log Off!

Yes, have a scheduled time to log off your computer and phone. Still answering emails at 11:00 pm may seem beneficial, but don’t feel like you need to open that “one more email.” 

If you’re answering a question that you have responded to 10x times already today, dealing with upset parents, or looking at an email that needs a more detailed answer, then that “one more email” turns into a later bedtime. Save yourself and say no after a particular time. You, your family, your pets, and your friends will thank you! 

Okay, now for the classroom.

5) Balanced Deadlines

We have to understand that this is new not only for us, but for the students. Do your best to over-communicate and make sure students are understanding expectations. During my first four weeks, I erased the thought of due dates and allowed the students to get familiar with online learning.

 Encourage your students to ask clarifying questions often! My rule is that if the students are communicating with me, the more I am willing to work with them. 

6) Challenges

Develop challenges in your Meet/Zoom workouts or as homework to create that competitive environment we are missing from the classroom. Then highlight and show off those students that are competing and working hard. You will be surprised how this turns the ones that are being “lazy” around to hard working students.  

7) Rewards

This goes along with challenges. So I have gotten $5 gift cards, water bottles, military gear, etc. to mail out or drop off at the homes of students that have won challenges or are proving the hard work they are putting in. You don’t have to break the bank. I went to Five Below and the dollar stores to find things that would help motivate my class in particular. 

Another way is just a simple note on a postcard saying how much you appreciate their hard work thus far. This goes a long way not only with the kids but maybe more so the parents. (To be honest, right now, we want the parents on our side!!)

Check out how over 1,200 schools are partnering with PLT4M for their educational fitness program in school and at home! 

9) Guest Speakers

Here is an excellent opportunity to use guest speakers that you wouldn’t normally be able to have within a typical school year. Reach out to people! You would be surprised how many people would be interested in speaking on a particular topic or even just telling their stories. 

Allow students to ask questions at the end, and then the next time you meet, you can do a wrap-up and discuss it as a class. 

10) Record Your Meet/Zoom

Not only for liability reasons, but then it’s a sense of accountability. I know some districts may have different rules for students with the camera and microphone. For me, I am trying to keep it as similar in person as possible. 

The students start with their cameras off when they log in, allow them to get ready, and then once I take attendance and call their name, their camera comes on and stays on the remainder of the hour. Once everyone is accounted for, I announce that the recording is starting. Again, this is my personal preference, and I understand this will not work for all school districts. 

Understand that technology can and will fail at times, but creating open communication is important to keeping the students and you on the page.

11) Break Out Sessions

Allow for break out sessions (small groups) to discuss a particular topic, brainstorm, develop a workout, or do a workout then report back to the big group. This allows them to talk with one another, and maybe something they don’t want to do with you…talk! It may be harsh, but they may want to talk about video games, girls/boys, our teaching, and other venting, and that is okay. 

12) Grades/Extra Credit

I grade assignments once a week, but I have ongoing extra credit. I do this for a couple reasons to benefit the students and my own sanity. I have decided to make Mastering Mobility assignments in PLT4M the extra credit. 

Whenever they complete a session, they have to email me that they completed it and go in and look to see their work recorded within PLT4M. Then with just a quick check, they get credit!

The second reason I do this is that this allows me to keep my log off time/schedule. It helps me organize and not get sucked into the endless grading pit, by having a designed grading time and day.

Moving Forward

Just as we encourage our students to learn from their mistakes, we need to remember that for ourselves. It’s okay to not know all the answers or for things to flow as well as they did in person, but this would be a great opportunity to start at the basics and remember what’s important…RELATIONSHIPS! 

Create a relationship with your students and show them a side of you they maybe wouldn’t see from past years. I mean we are teaching from our homes, that is pretty personal. 

And lastly, let’s always remember: don’t reinvent the wheel. You have enough on your plate and so do your students.  Good luck with the rest of the school year!

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