First Year Teacher’s Survival Guide to Finishing The School Year Strong
Congratulations! You’ve made it through the first half of your first year teaching.
The first year in the classroom is full of so many different emotions, struggles, learning opportunities, and successes. Make sure you step back and reflect on where you started, what you’ve learned, and how far you’ve come.
You’ve accomplished a lot. It hasn’t been easy, but you’re doing it! And that deserves to be celebrated.
Now as you look forward to the second half of the year, you may be wondering – “How can I finish strong?”
The second half of the year often feels both exciting and overwhelming. But don’t worry! You don’t have to tackle it alone. Today I’m sharing the key areas you need to focus on to make sure you and your students have a productive, successful second semester!
What do you need to focus on to finish your year strong?
Finishing your year strong means staying consistent with the systems, expectations, and culture we’ve poured so much time and energy into cultivating in the first half of the year!
Wanting to “finish strong” does not mean you have to rehaul your entire classroom, create new systems, or start over from scratch! In fact, starting over or reinventing everything will make it harder for your students (and you) to thrive in the second semester.
So go ahead and breathe a big sigh of relief – you can keep doing what’s been working, make a few small tweaks if necessary, and enjoy the second half of this school year.
You’ll want to focus on 3 key areas for finishing strong:
- Classroom expectations
- Classroom and behavior management systems
- Creating a fun learning environment for our students and ourselves
When you prioritize these three key areas, you and your students will enjoy a second semester full of learning and growing!
And what could be better than that?
Now that we know what to focus on, let’s dig into how you can put each of these focus areas into action in your classroom.
Managing Classroom Expectations
Your classroom expectations reflect what’s most important to you, your students, and your school. These expectations set the foundation for how students treat each other, how you respond to them, and who is responsible for what throughout the day.
Classroom expectations are a vital piece of your classroom culture and make it possible for you to build relationships and teach.
But as the school year begins to wind down, teachers sometimes make the mistake of letting up on classroom expectations and not being as consistent with what we expect.
We assume students already know what they’re supposed to do, so we don’t give them reminders like we did in the first semester. Many teachers stop having daily conversations about how we treat our classmates, our materials, our classroom, and our teacher because it feels like students should know all of that by now.
Here’s what you need to know: Students always need reminders about classroom expectations.
Loosening up your expectations now will only lead to frustrated students, behavior issues, and a frustrated teacher wondering “What happened to my amazing students and well-ordered classroom?!”
So what’s a first year teacher to do?
Start with reviewing your classroom expectations and routines every day.
Set your students up for success by telling them exactly what is expected of them… even if you feel like you’ve told them 291742 times!
Consistent reminders, conversations, and feedback are necessary if you want to keep your classroom running like a well-oiled machine.
Small reminders in the moment can also be incredibly helpful, especially when phrased as a question that helps your student assess their behavior or choice. When a student grabs a pencil off their neighbor’s desk, use that as an opportunity to ask – “How do we treat our neighbor’s materials in this classroom?” Give your student time to think, respond, and correct their behavior before moving on.
While it may feel like it should be second nature by now, consistently talking about and reminding your students of your classroom expectations is one of the best ways to finish your year strong! You’ll avoid exhausting behavior issues and struggles, and your students will feel confident about following through on what’s expected of them.
Behavior Management Systems
Your behavior management system is simply the step-by-step processes and systems you have in place for how students behave, interact, and move throughout their day in your classroom.
This system is crucial to running a successful classroom because this is how you meet the emotional needs of your students on a daily basis. A smooth behavior management system leads to more time spent teaching and less time spent correcting or managing behavior.
If your behavior management system wasn’t working well last semester, you’ve still got plenty of time to make tweaks and improve things for a more seamless, less chaotic second semester!
But before you make any changes, take the time to assess your current behavior management system and see where students may need extra support. Remind yourself of the consequences and incentives in place so you know exactly how to respond when conflict or behavior issues arise. Feeling confident in your behavior management system is the foundation for long-term success with any plan.
How do you teach your students to handle conflict? Maybe you need to role play or walk through examples of this expectation with your class before conflict gets out of hand.
What are the consequences for specific choices or behaviors? Maybe you need to remind students of these consequences on a more regular basis as energy (and restlessness) starts to increase as the weather warms up and we approach spring and summer breaks.
Asking yourself these questions, prepping for conflict you know is common in your classroom, and taking the time to review the classroom behavior management system with your students will help everyone start out on a better foot.
And if you need help facilitating conversations about consequences and behavior expectations, make sure you read to the end of this post because I’m sharing a fabulous resource!
Create a fun learning environment
Every teacher defines what makes a learning environment fun and exciting for you and your students!
There’s no “right way” to create a fun learning environment, but however it looks in your classroom, it is one of the most important keys to finishing the year strong!
Of course, it’s not just about having fun – it’s about creating a classroom where your students want to show up every day, building meaningful relationships with your students, and giving everyone a chance to learn, explore, and grow.
Behavior management systems and classroom expectations are in place to give you the freedom to add fun into your daily routine. When behavior is well managed and students follow the expectations for your classroom, it’s easy to inject fun, exciting elements!
And don’t think fun has to happen apart from learning. The best classrooms make the learning process itself a joy!
There are several ways you can focus on bringing more fun to your classroom in the second half of the year.
Here are a few of my favorite:
- Hands-on learning
- Movement-based learning
- Collaborative or group activities
Hands-on learning can look like creating your own unique habitats, conducting exciting science projects, or writing poems. Anything that puts students in the driver’s seat and lets them experience what they’ve read or learned about!
Movement-based learning is a great way to manage some of the heightened energy levels your students will reach as we inch closer to spring and summer breaks. Students can experience the effects of gravity for themselves by jumping off playground equipment (safely of course) or turn sight words into a game of hopscotch by writing them outside with sidewalk chalk.
There’s no limit to how you can incorporate movement into your students’ day. Bonus: Movement-based learning has been shown to increase attention spans and improve retention.
Collaborative learning is the best way to encourage positive relationships and bonding between students. Have them work in groups to solve math problems, build a marble run, or write a group story. Students will learn how to work together, problem-solve, and help one another.
When introducing collaborative learning, make sure you model how it should work and give your students clear instructions. They may need additional support from you as they learn how to work together.
Finishing Your Year Strong
You have everything you need to finish your first year teaching like a pro!
Focusing on classroom expectations, your behavior management system, and creating a fun learning environment will ensure your students continue learning crucial material, build stronger relationships, and enjoy coming to school every day.
While summer may feel like it's already right around the corner, now isn’t the time to lower your expectations or loosen your behavior management. Continue your strong start by staying consistent, regularly reminding students of what they are expected to do, and injecting fun into the learning process wherever possible!
Need help with behavior management? Get your own Behavior Support Pack!
Facilitating helpful conversations about behavior, consequences, and expectations is one of the best ways to help your students make better choices and follow classroom routines.
But knowing how to have that conversation can be tricky!
That’s why I created the Behavior Support Pack! I would use these slides in my own classroom to have powerful conversations with my students.
This support pack gives you an intentional way to teach about classroom behaviors and the consequences that come with those behaviors.