Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Inevitable September Flurry: 4 Things to Focus On

Let's all take a deep breath together.

If your week has been anything like ours, it’s likely been a flurry of schedules, logistics, paperwork, organization, and oh yeah – on top of all of that, teaching too.

And thus begins the school year.

Don’t get me wrong – the start of the school year is actually one of my favourite times of the year (second only to the end of the year, when we get to look back and reflect on the growth we’ve seen!), but in all honesty we know the start of the year is sometimes equal parts challenging and inspiring. With the start of a school year, there’s always a settling in period – new teams are getting used to working together, or maybe you’re adapting to a new room, grade, or even school. Perhaps some routines and logistics in your school have changed or you’re part of an entirely different schedule. And you’re doing paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork. Forms get counted, forms go home, forms come back, forms get filed, forms get sorted, more forms go home, etc. Even the most passionate and organized teacher has multiple moments of feeling buried under all this paperwork, change, and settling in period. It happens. But the point I want to make with this post is that alongside all these busy tasks, there are lots and lots of really amazing things happening too if you stop to notice them – so don’t lose sight.

This year I’m working hard on moving my focus away from the inevitable start of the year flurry, and am instead trying to focus more on the following four things I don’t want to lose sight of. Join me!

1) Teamwork makes the dream work!

I can’t actually take any credit for that handy slogan, I picked it up at a lovely dance studio I teach at (hey OSD!) but it perfectly encapsulates something to keep in mind as the school year begins. You, your ECE, any other Kindergarten teachers in the school can, and should, operate as a team. It’s only going to make everyone’s lives easier, and sometimes approaching a situation from someone else’s viewpoint can really open things up. Nobody can be expected to do this all alone – so make use of your team!  Delegate when you need to delegate, and ask for advice when you need it. Each team member brings a unique outlook and set of skills to the program, and good things happen when this becomes central to how you operate. The start of the year is an incredibly busy time – approaching it as a team is highly beneficial to all involved.

2) A matter of priority: human connection over busy work.

With so much of that aforementioned paperwork to get organized and out of the way, prioritizing your tasks is crucial. It boils down to what you believe September is meant for. For me, September is all about connecting personally with your new group of students, building the foundation for the rest of the school year, and making them feel safe, respected, and valued as part of your learning community. This becomes impossible when you let the paperwork and busy tasks take the forefront. Yes, these important organizational tasks need to get done, but at times when they don’t impede your ability to connect authentically with your students. If even part of your focus is on organizing the newsletters and packages to be sent home while a brand new student is trying eagerly to show you the picture they just drew, it’s time to reassess your September priorities. If you, like I do, value the new connections with your students above all else, that means that yes, we may need to take away part of our lunch break to get the paperwork done, or maybe even take it home that night to complete.

3) Analyze, think it through, rack your brain for more ideas – and then STOP!

Speaking of taking things home to complete, we all know what our nights are like in September (and all year, really). We go home and the wheels in our head keep turning and turning, going over what happened that day, what worked, what didn’t, what we can do differently next time, and what we still find challenging. We take advantage of the Internet, which connects us with educators around the world and we share experience and advice. This is a great thing and it shows our commitment to bettering our practice. However, this doesn’t mean we need to (nor should we) spend every single waking hour doing this. As a newer teacher, I’ve fallen into this trap before – thinking that a “good teacher” spends ALL their time thinking about their practice and how to improve their classroom. I’ve now realized the importance of giving yourself one or two hours a day for something else, anything else, unrelated to your job – working out, making a meal, reading a book, visiting a friend. Taking time away from analyzing your school day doesn’t make you a bad teacher, it makes you a teacher who understands the need to pace yourself and ensure you’re not heading for burn out. There’s a benefit to spending our hours at home thinking about our classroom, but there’s a bigger benefit to finding balance between this and the things we enjoy that recharge us for the next day.

4) Celebrate the small stuff, and realize that the big stuff takes time.

In terms of what’s happening in your classroom in September, I’m a big believer in going slow. As educators of young children, we know the importance of repetition, repetition, repetition. Class routines don't happen with the snap of your fingers. As well, not everything will work right away - but don't lose sight of the fact that eventually things will fall into place. A successful classroom community takes time. It takes multiple attempts, failures, successes, and resilience. In a couple of months, we'll be looking back at this time of the year and remarking on how far our students have come since then, and how our routines and expectations run seamlessly. Remember that just because it's not there after one week (nor should it be!) it doesn't mean it will be never there. And while you keep reinforcing these things to strengthen them in the long run, don't forget to celebrate the things that ARE working right away! Maybe your students did their best tidy up yet. Celebrate this and congratulate them! Maybe a quieter student suddenly raised their hand to contribute to a community discussion. Know that your efforts to create a safe and respectful space are working! It's easy to get caught up in the flurry of the start of the year - but don't forget to highlight the small successes that are happening in your classroom day after day. It's a daily reminder I give myself - less "Oh wow, I have so much to do in September!" (because talking about how much we have to do at the start of the year won't change the fact that it still needs to be done) and more "Oh wow, lots of good things are already happening, let's keep this up!".

Attitude is everything.


  1. I really like this article. I love working with our other Kindergarten teacher! We share stories, books, visuals, manipulatives, toys, center materials...and more. And in response to making connections with students, I find that when students feel like they are an important part of the classroom community, they are eager to come to school, are engaged in their learning, and less likely to misbehave. Usually!

  2. Glad this resonated with you, Barb. Thanks for reading. Hope you have a great year!