Back-to-School Wisdom from the Experts

Decorating, lesson-planning, gathering project materials . . . there are a lot of little details to keep track of when heading back to school. What’s most important? We asked teachers, administrators, and education specialists for some back-to-school advice. Here’s what we took away:

  • Start by building relationships with students, parents, and other teachers.
  • Take opportunities to learn with and from your students and your fellow educators.
  • Get inspired by celebrating your past achievements.

Focus on Relationships First . . .

. . . within Your School

Some of education’s big thinkers consistently said that getting to know your school community will make for a year of deeper learning:

“My one piece of advice for educators as they prepare for another school year is to form relationships early and often. First, know yourself. Reflect often about who you are as an educator, what you do well and how you can do it better. Take time to know who your students really are. What their personalities are. What they like, don’t like, etc. . . . Building positive school culture is up to us all. Form those relationships with colleagues. Learn from them. Grow with them. Isolation is a choice teachers make. There is so much we can learn from each other!”

Steven W. Anderson, Educational Evangelist, Speaker/Consultant

. . . with Your Students

“. . . all that we do is grounded in relationships. The best way to kick off your year is by building a culture of innovation in your classroom where trust is the foundation, students are free to take risks, and the culture is dynamic and supportive. Take the first few days to build your team. Empower the voice of everyone in the room and ensure that they leave feeling valued, respected, and that you couldn’t be more excited to have THEM on your team this year. Show your new group of kids how much you care. Make it obvious that you love your work and that there is nowhere else in the world you want to bethan learning alongside them. Build relationships, push their thinking, and the content will follow. Invest the time early and the relationships will pay academic dividends for the rest of the year!”

Thomas Murray, Director of Innovation, Future Ready Schools, Washington, D.C.

Vicki Davis of CoolCatTeacher offered an idea for a fun relationship-building activity:

“I have students use play dough to model something that is wonderful about them. Some will model a basketball and say they love basketball. Others may model a horse or a pet. Still others might model a book. It gives me insight quickly into what they love and who they are. So, while there are many things we need to be doing, remember to start off with the relationship!”

Vicki Davis, Teacher & Blogger, Founder of CoolCatTeacher

In order to have meaningful relationships with students, we have to consider the way that external factors, like the current political climate, are affecting their lives:

“. . . be candid and nonjudgmental when answering students’ questions about the dialogue going on in the United States as elected political leaders and the news media tackle important issues about immigration, global affairs, health care, the Russian ‘hacking’ scandal, and national security. Students, like the rest of us, are being barraged by the 24/7 news and social media cycles and we have to assuage students’ fears and concerns by helping them navigate the news cycle and use their critical thinking skills to understand the often hostile communication interactions going on in America and the global community.

Delbert White Jr., Education Technology Thought Leader

. . . with Parents

Form positive relationships with parents. Don’t just call home when a student is in trouble. Call home, write, as often as you can to let them know how awesome things are. It takes just a second to make a parent’s day.

Steven W. Anderson, Educational Evangelist, Speaker/Consultant

“Don’t rely on students to communicate information and what’s happening in your classroom. Find tools to “tell YOUR story” and then share them with parents, community, and the world directly.”

Andy Adams, Digital Learning Specialist, Region 7 ESC

Take Opportunities to Keep on Learning

Mark Suter, a game design and programming teacher, shared what he is getting out of professional learning:

For this fall, I’m attending some conferences to find resources for my game design and programming courses.

Mark Suter, Game Design and Programming Teacher

We also heard from a couple digital learning experts about alternative professional learning activities that they are offering at their schools:

“I’m working with my colleagues to plan a hands-on week-long conference—called JumpStart—for our faculty to kick off the school year. We are excited that it will be a mix of featured speakers, EdCamp-style discussions, and breakout sessions. With so much choice and variety, we hope that every educator will get the ideas and energy they need.”

Kerry Gallagher, Digital Learning Specialist at St. John’s Prep

Kerry doing a parent/student night to help parents learn more about how their children use iPads in school.

“This fall finds us entering the final stage of our 1:1 rollouts . . . we are noticing our teachers are seeing devices and technology platforms as true tools of learning rather than separate and additional to the curriculum . . . To help our teachers gain confidence and knowledge, we (our team of edtech coaches) are creating challenge-based explorative professional learning activities. These are meant to be hands-on, fast-paced and are built to immerse the teacher in the platform rather than training them to swipe and click.”

Brianna Henneke Hodges, Director of Digital Learning for Stephenville Independent School District

For some teachers, continued learning means thinking about how they might alter lesson plans based on student feedback:

I prepared by looking over my lessons from the previous semesters and tweaking them based on how they went. Keeping many with tweaks, while getting rid of some entirely. Experience is key.

Blake Borden, Zulama Teacher

Get Inspired by Celebrating Last Year’s Accomplishments

A few educators and learning specialists reflected on their proudest moments from last school year:

Celebrating Students

“My proudest moment last year was when my students successfully deployed their Unity apps to the HTC Vive that they designed and coded themselves.”

Mark Suter, Game Design and Programming Teacher

“In terms of using Zulama, my proudest moments were basically Monday mornings in my Cinematography class. Using the Screenwriting Curriculum, we would discuss character development and dialog. Many members of the class were fans of the Walking Dead TV show and each Monday we were able to talk about way more than just what happened in Sunday’s episode. We would discuss the choices they made and how they grew the character, theme, etc.”

Brian Wetzel, Zulama Teacher

“Over the years, I feared that I was too didactic and that students all programmed the same way as me based on my teaching and use of exemplars. However, this fear was unfounded . . . They’ve developed their own individual methods of solving problems through programming and this made me immensely proud. My second proudest achievement was finally breaking the gender gap. For September 2017, 54 percent of students choosing Computer Science as one of their three elective GCSE option subjects in Year 10 were female! This may not seem like a significant achievement, however the national average is 16.1 percent!”

William Lau, Assistant Headteacher, Author of Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools

Regarding Zulama courses I taught—The projects that were created in the Game Design class were amazing. Definitely my favorite moment.”

Blake Borden, Zulama Teacher

“My boy’s robotic team made it to state competition this year. I was so proud of their initiative, hard work, and creativity.”

Faith Plunkett, Entertainment Technology Academy Teacher

Celebrating Teachers

“Featuring the work of my daughter’s second-grade teacher and the teachers from my school in a conference presentation. I love sharing the amazing work that great teachers do every single day.”

Kerry Gallagher, Digital Learning Specialist at St. John’s Prep

“This past year, we had several teachers transform their classroom into imaginative worlds (e.g., Mario World), complete with hanging coin boxes that students could punch when they unlocked portions of the Breakout-style curriculum and physical activities that brought authentic application to their understanding of the content. We had teachers push past their uncertainties and utilize blogging and digital portfolios as vehicles for connected learning. And, we had teachers who became such believerssuch great sailboatsthat they shared their experiences with others as first-time presenters at major learning conferences.”

Brianna Henneke Hodges, Director of Digital Learning for Stephenville Independent School District

Want to spice up your curriculum this fall? Bring game design and computer science into any class, at any time with our 15–20—hour Short Courses.