For teachers, the first day of school always involves plenty of planning. But this year, the COVID-19 pandemic makes school planning difficult at best and often full of uncertainties.
We’ve put together 8 ideas for your back to school checklist to make the transition back to class as smooth as possible. Whether you will continue distance learning, return to school in person, or a combination of the two, these tips can help you and your students feel safe and supported.
1. Familiarize yourself with your district’s back to school guidelines.
Every school district is handling the return to school differently depending on local restrictions and conditions. Some may be returning fully to the classroom while others will remain online, while many may employ a mixture of the two. And plans may change quickly as the pandemic continues to develop.
In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, make sure you’re up to date with your district’s guidelines. That way, you can adjust your plans for the year accordingly and in a way that keeps your students safe.
2. Adjust your classroom setup for social distancing if you will return to school.
Once you’ve reviewed your school guidelines, and if your students will spend time in class, organize your classroom in a way that supports them. For example, the American Association of Pediatrics’ Healthy Children suggests the following:
- Keep desks three to six feet apart
- Limit the number of people in the classroom at any time
- Use outdoor spaces whenever possible
What’s best or safest for your classroom setup depends on your area. That’s why it’s so important to keep up with the latest guidelines so you can prepare your classroom accordingly.
3. Discuss worries with your school administrator.
COVID-19 has disrupted life as we know it, and it’s more than normal to have concerns as we approach the new school year. Set up a meeting with your school administrator before school starts to bring up any essential questions you have about the first days of school.
If you’re not sure where to start, UNICEF has created a list of questions for families to ask school administrators. Many of these may be adapted for your own concerns as a teacher.
4. Plan for a new classroom routine.
Teacher Magazine contributors Carl Leonard and Gail Brown recommend establishing a new classroom routine to help your students feel comfortable and safe—especially students with special needs.
Your new routine may differ from previous years as you adapt to local guidelines. The important part is to keep it consistent. According to Edutopia staff writer Elizabeth Skopec, having online lessons at the same time and place every day can help students stay engaged while distance learning.
If your classroom will be all-virtual this year, for example, you could do a video call with your students at the same time each week to share encouraging thoughts or give students time to socialize. Or if you will be doing a mix of virtual and in-person learning, you could do a read-aloud every day that you’re in the classroom.
5. Provide families with back to school information ahead of time.
One way to keep families at ease is by providing them with information about the first days of school in a letter or email. That way, you can limit the anxiety and stress families experience by limiting uncertainty.
A few points that Anxiety Canada recommends covering include:
- Changes made at schools
- Family expectations
- Upcoming and long-term plans
6. Start the Year with a Focus on Relationships.
Writing for Education Week, Larry Ferlazzo stresses the importance of relationship-building between students and teachers. It is crucial for student motivation. While it can be difficult to help students get to know each other if you’re unable to meet in-person, tools like video meetings and online learning games can help students connect from a distance.
For ideas on how to introduce yourself to your new students while social distancing, check out this resource from We Are Teachers. Each activity is equally suitable for in-person or online learning.
7. Know your plan for if a student or colleague tests positive for COVID-19.
The CDC guidelines for returning to school recommend that school administrators create a proactive plan for what will happen if students or faculty members test positive for COVID-19. Discuss any existing plans ahead of time with your administrator so you can have peace of mind if such a situation arises.
As discussed by Edsurge contributor Stephen Noonoo, teachers who are high-risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms face additional concerns as they re-enter the classroom. If you are at risk, bring your concerns to your school administrator and come up with a plan to limit your exposure and stay safe.
8. Consider a distant, hybrid, or blended classroom strategy.
If your school will remain at least partially online, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed—especially if you have limited experience with distance teaching. Hybrid and blended classroom strategies can help you create your lesson plans for these first days of school.
Blended learning is a strategy which allows students to learn both as a class and independently, and—according to Blended Learning Universe—it often involves online instruction. Hybrid learning is a subsection of this strategy that provides students with both in-person and online instruction. Researching both of these strategies can help you create strong lesson plans if your district intends to remain online in some capacity.
If your school district will be distant in any form this year, check out this Remote Teaching Setup resource from Stanford University. This can be helpful for educators less familiar with distance or hybrid learning to make the transition less daunting.