By Jacob Knipes
As students across our region prepare to go back to school, teachers and principals prepare for their impending arrival. But just what does the process of educators preparing for the beginning of a new school year look like? To find out, we asked several educators about what they are up to doing these final weeks.
Mountain Times: What does preparing for a new school year look like?
Amy Simonds, sixth grade teacher at Killington Elementary School: “I love to take the summer to gather new and exciting ideas for my classroom, and to look for fresh, innovative activities and lesson plans.”
John Hansen, principal of Reading Elementary School: “As a principal, preparing for the new year starts with lots of projects to the facility. In the case of Reading Elementary School, the building and grounds department has worked on the following projects: Installation of a new propane boiler and underground propane tank, removal of the underground oil tank, installation of a major solar array on the roof of the multi-purpose room, painting of the entire exterior of the building, significant interior painting, the “usual” top to bottom cleaning of all rooms, followed by the refinishing of all tile floors.”
Meg Schindler, fourth grade teacher at Killington Elementary School: “For me, preparing for the school year starts with lots of daydreaming. It is exciting to start a new school year with energizing ideas of what will bring the students joy in connection with their learning. That vision gives me the energy boost I need to get into the classroom and wade through the annual process of cleaning out old materials, labeling new ones, and making sure there is a functional, homey flow to the physical classroom space.”
MT: How do you keep things fresh every school year?
Simonds: “Every class is so different, and it is fun to tailor the direction of the school year based on the students’ interests and passions. For example, during step-up day, the students expressed an interest in learning about geology, so I have planned some local field trips and researched geology lesson plans over the summer.”
Hansen: “Preparation for the new school year also involves ordering of books and supplies. Our administrative assistant comes in a few days over the summer to make sure we order and have everything we need for the first day of school.”
Schindler: “I try to keep things fresh every school year by being responsive to students’ interests, needs, and hopes. It can be challenging to try to strike a balance between a tried and tested curriculum and a new, untested one. For example, one year I had a class that spontaneously became completely invested in learning about water scarcity around the globe. So, we pivoted and redesigned the curriculum to accommodate their interest. More than one investigation during that unit did not go as planned, but when I see those students years later, that unit of study is what they recall and celebrate most. So, we try to take opportunities throughout the year to bring students’ interests to fruition.”
MT: What are the biggest challenges in acclimating to a new group of students?
Simonds: “Fortunately, we have a tight-knit school community, so the teachers and students have had opportunities to get to work together throughout the previous school year during performances, assemblies, and other collaborative activities. That makes acclimating to a new classroom much easier.”
Hansen: “As a principal, I think it can be easier than it is for the teachers. I get to know the students when they enter the pre-K, and our small school has very few new students in any given year. I’m working with almost all the same children every year, except that I’m always meeting a new class of pre-K students.”
Schindler: “The trickiest part of a new school year is designing a daily routine that prioritizes student-student and student-staff relationships, as well as setting the expectation of consistently treating each other with respect and empathy. Trust is the underpinning of all learning, because learning implies that a learner is in the vulnerable position of lacking knowledge. If a student can’t trust their classmates or their teacher to be respectful and empathetic, they are unlikely to be forthcoming about what they don’t know and therefore need to learn. Furthermore, they may be reluctant to engage in the important work of attempting to practice new skills, for fear of failure. In learning environments where students and teachers are both willing to engage in curiosity, vulnerability, and communication, students’ joy is as plentiful as their academic growth.”
MT: How has Covid-19 impacted the way you approach preparing for your class?
Hansen: “Hand washing and staying home when even mildly sick is important for all of us.”
Schindler: “Covid-19 has impacted the way I approach preparing for my class by more thoroughly considering the role that technology plays in the classroom. Technology is a helpful aid, which can help students of all abilities access the curriculum in profoundly impactful ways. However, it is also essential to master traditional skills, like having legible handwriting. Even reading isn’t the same from a book as from an electronic source. Students have to be taught how to navigate embedded links and tools. They also need to be aware of the physical effects of technology and which symptoms may mean it’s time to take a break or shift to a printed source — like a headache, sore upper back/neck, or strained eyes. Technology isn’t going anywhere, but students can learn how to be aware of its positive and negative effects on their learning and their wellbeing.”
MT: What is your message to students ahead of the new school year?
Simonds: “I am so excited to start a new journey with a new group of students, and I know it will be an exciting, memorable school year!”
Hansen: “The harsher restrictions of the Covid pandemic are mostly gone. We can be more relaxed as we enter this new school year, ready to give it our best effort and to have fun with our learning. Learning is empowering, and who doesn’t want a little more power over their lives?
Schindler: “Welcome! I am glad that you are here with us. I promise to be happy to see you everyday and grateful to spend this time with you.”