4 Organizational Tips to Get Your School Year Started Off Right
Tip #1: How to Set Up a Gradebook
For the first several years after beginning my teaching career, I thought setting up a gradebook was as easy as adding the subject I was teaching at the top of the page and listing my students’ names. Over the years, I have incorporated some ideas that you may find useful as you set up your own gradebook this year.
Determine how many separate subjects you will be teaching and to how many different classes of students. (e.g., I teach two graded subjects (reading/writing), and I teach three separate classes.)
How many grading periods are in your school year? (e.g., There are four 9-week grading periods in mine.)
On the first lined page in my gradebook, I paperclip 4 pages together and label this section “Reading – 1st period” – Now I have four pages together that I can use for my first period reading class for each 9-week period during the year. I then leave 4 pages for my 2nd period reading, and 4 pages for my 3rd period reading. I repeat the process for my three English classes. This information may not be anything new to you, but I hope the next part will be something even more helpful. See the example below.
I learned after many parent, principal, and counselor meetings that I needed information that I often didn’t have at my fingertips. I began typing up each student’s accommodations and special circumstances so that I could recall the information for meetings as well as for my own information. I taped the list of information inside my gradebook. I also created a column for my students’ scores alongside their names. These scores could be achievement tests, benchmarks, or state testing scores from the previous year. This information helped me remember which students needed extra help as the school year progressed. It was also a great way to determine growth throughout the school year. See the example below.
TECH TIP: If you’re a techy person, a gradebook could also be created using Google Sheets so that it is saved to your Google Drive for ease of access wherever you are.
Tip #2: Setting Up Student Files
At the beginning of each year, I label a manila folder with the name of each student in my class and keep them in a file cabinet. In each folder, I add a copy of the typed list (just like in my gradebook) that lists any student accommodations or special circumstances I need to recall at a moment’s notice. (e.g., When I’m in the middle of one of those fun parent phone calls about something not so fun!) I also add other important information that I may need to remember about a child. For example, our city was recently flooded by a hurricane, and many of my students were without permanent homes. I simply wrote “flooded” in the folder, so I could add their names to any lists for supplies, clothing, or financial help that may have come up throughout the year. Signed behavior reports (love them and you will want them after you find out about them in the next section) and work samples also go in the folders. I keep grades that concern me as well as grades that show improvement/progress. Progress reports, assessment data, parent contact information, and many other documents can be placed here for easy use. These files can come in extremely handy for end-of-the-year documentation purposes and at parent conferences.
TECH TIP: If you’re a techy person, these things can also be scanned and saved to your Google Drive or other online file-saving software for ease of access wherever you are.
Tip #3: Behavior Chart
This is something I didn’t have when I first started teaching. I always had an in-class incentive system or a smiley or frowny face chart in the students’ folders, but nothing that let the parent know exactly what was happening in the class each day. (Where have behavior reports been all my life?) Since I teach three classes of students, my partner teachers and I wanted a system that helped us track a student’s behavior throughout the day and from class to class. We came up with the Weekly Behavior Report. The report has each teacher’s name and subject area. The chart has separate columns for each day of the week, the student’s name, date, and a place for parents to sign. Each student’s report is kept in a three-ring binder that travels from place to place with the class during the school day. (I assign a student to this task for the week – usually the weekly line leader.) It goes home on Fridays to be signed by the parent or guardian and returned the following Monday.
These reports should be a combination of information (e.g., Johnny went to the nurse 3 times in a week, was tardy to class, absent, etc.), negative behaviors (e.g., not following directions, talking, etc.), and positive behaviors (e.g., showing great improvement in spelling, great reader, etc.).
There have been several instances where these signed behavior reports were necessary and helpful documentation of parent contact, and they are a good form of open communication with the parents, as well. They help us address things in a timely manner before things become a bigger problem, and they often open the door to parent phone calls/emails/conferences. See the example below, and click the image for a link to a free editable version for you to use in your classroom this year!
Tip #4: Restroom Passes
(I love these almost as much as behavior charts!) Picture this. As soon as you start your lesson, a hand goes up. “Mrs. Beall, may I use the restroom?” I hear from the back of the room. “We just went ten minutes ago, Johnny,” I reply. “Well, I didn’t have to go then,” he says. I’m sure you can all identify with this scenario. Since we have multiple times built into the schedule that our students may use the restroom and still had the problem of constant restroom use, my co-teachers and I decided to use restroom passes. Each student keeps a printed restroom pass sheet in a specific folder. They may have 10 “emergency” restroom times during a 9-week period. They hand me the folder, I sign it with no questions asked, and they exit to the restroom. For each restroom pass not used during a 9-week period, a reward is given. Now, the conversation goes something like this… “Mrs. Beall, may I use the restroom?” Johnny says. “Bring me a restroom pass, please” I reply. “Uh, I think I can wait,” he replies.
*Special note: If a student has a medical reason that they need to use the restroom, I still have them use a restroom pass. They will not receive any punishment but do not qualify for the rewards at the end of the 9-weeks. See the example below, and click the image for a link to a free editable version for you to use in your classroom this year!
I hope you find these tips useful, and if you have any awesome tips, we here at Watson Works would love to hear about them! Please share in the comments below!