Doing the research will help ensure your next school year is a great one. Shorter days. School supplies sales. Forlorn looks on sun-kissed kids’ faces. August means one thing: back-to-school time. Though exciting, the start of the new school year can also be nerve-wracking, with concerns about find

Aug 04, 2015

Doing the research will help ensure your next school year is a great one.

Shorter days. School supplies sales. Forlorn looks on sun-kissed kids’ faces. August means one thing: back-to-school time. Though exciting, the start of the new school year can also be nerve-wracking, with concerns about finding your footing with new students and avoiding pedagogical missteps.

You’re likely to receive lots of packets and instruction from your school during this year’s orientation. But they probably won’t answer all of your questions. What questions should educators ask — of colleagues, administrators, and yourself — to be sure their school year starts off on the right foot? Here are 10 ideas:

1. What are the school's mission and vision and how will I play a role in supporting and/or creating them?

Ensuring all staff members have a shared mission and concrete plan to reach it is a top priority for many teachers. Connect with your school’s teacher leaders and administration to discuss the mission and vision, then create an action plan for your role in their success, whether you’re in a new school or simply a new school year.

2. How do we measure and track student growth?

Teachers also need to be aware of what data systems they are expected to use to monitor student progress. It’s notoriously difficult to track data in Arizona’s education system, but some schools have implemented technologies to make sure teachers have easy access to student metrics.

3. Which students need special attention?

For new teachers (whether in general or to their grade/school), it pays to get the low-down from their students’ previous teachers. Jaime Festa-Daigle, NBCT at Lake Havasu High School, says gathering information about students is important. “As soon as I receive my class lists, I email parents and families and ask them questions that are important in helping me know their student.” Festa-Daigle also looks up the students’ grades, discipline, testing, etc. in the school management system. “Talking to teachers who previously worked with these students is also helpful to find out what worked and what didn’t work with specific kids,” she says.

4. Are there any new state requirements I need to know about? 

Every year brings changes to Arizona’s education system, and some of these may require you to adapt your curriculum, according to English teacher Matt Foreman from Mountain View High School in Mesa. “As the AIMS test reaches its final years and the conversation has shifted back and forth with Common Core and PARCC test standards, it sometimes seems like teachers get new game changers every few months,” he says. “Because of this, it behooves teachers to speak with their department chairs before the year starts and simply ask what's going to be expected of them.”

5. What would you say is the biggest gap in service/equitable educational opportunities at our school, and how can I help address this?

Teachers should work with colleagues to focus on students who are most struggling at the school, and develop an action plan early on to address them. This means zeroing in on students with individualized education programs or English language learners before the school year starts so you’re prepared from the get-go.

6. How can we ensure that all students feel safe and successful at school?

Educators should always implement culturally responsive teaching strategies to ensure all of their students feel included and protected. Things to think about: multicultural teaching references, disciple and behavior expectations that consider different students’ specials needs, culture and noise/energy tolerance at home.

7. Who can I go to when I need ________?

Glen Water, who has taught in Hawaii, Arizona, and Palestine, says finding go-to resources early can save you major headaches down the road. “Who at the school is good at technology, especially if you aren't good yourself?” he says. “Who are the people who you can go to for support, and what is their favorite type of dessert to buy them ahead of time for the many times they will save you?”

8. How did you get into teaching, and what drives you to stay year upon year?

Simply getting to know your colleagues ensures better collaboration in the future. Building up trust with your fellow educators is a key way to set a solid foundation for professional (and personal) relationships. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and guidance; you’ll show you value their expertise, and your classroom will benefit from the advice.

9. What can be a healthy outlet to maintain a positive mindset when I get fatigued?

Not all questions must directly relate to your time in the classroom; nor do they need to be directed at other people. You also need to consider caring for yourself so you can care for your kids. As we all know, teaching is time consuming, so be sure to prioritize your personal life.  Setting up healthy habits for balancing your personal and professional lives at the beginning of the school year can help you continue them throughout.

10. What are your dreams? What do you want from your experience with school?

For many teachers, the most important questions to ask shouldn’t be directed at administrators or colleagues, but the people your teaching directly impacts. Families and students should be your go-to resource at the beginning of the school year — and in the 10 months to come. This is especially crucial in Arizona schools, where nearly 10 percent of students are English language learners, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Don’t forget: Arizona Master Teacher applications are available as of Aug. 3. Become a teacher leader and help your students and your colleagues succeed this school year.

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