I spend much of my summers reading and reflecting on the prior year (as many of you do, I bet), but my reflection readiness always comes to a halt around the time of faculty meetings. Bulletin boards, posters on wall, lesson plans, syllabi, curriculum, meetings, gradebooks, LMS pages, AND IT MUST BE DONE RIGHT NOW! If you’re in this headspace right now I encourage you to take a step back.

Actual photographic image of me every August since 2009

I’m starting my 10th year in a new school and a new town this year. This school has a CI-aligned department led by one of the most courageous and selfless department chairs I’ve ever worked with. My colleagues are some of the kindest people I’ve met and the vibe surrounding this year feels so positive. It feels like I’ve won the CI French Teacher lottery! In this highly motivating environment it’s perhaps more important now that I conserve energy and focus on the essentials. Here are some of my essentials (some suggested by my department chair, others personal to me):

  1. Syllabi and Grading Guidelines: This knocks off your rules, routines, philosophy on grading and categories, and, most importantly, the structure and backbone of your courses. This is essential information to communicate with students and parents at the start of the year (but not necessarily FIRST MINUTE FIRST DAY–more on my take on day one to come later
  2. Gradebooks and LMS Pages: Follow your syllabus grading guidelines to set up your gradebooks or other forms of summative assessment communication at your school. Also, if you use a Learning Management System such as Canvas or Schoology, what’s the minimum amount of material you could add so that students have some point of reference without you spending hours curating something students may not use? I want my LMS pages to be tricked out, but is this something that can wait for me until I wrap my head around everything else? Yes.
  3. First Week of Lessons: What’s your communicative task? How are you getting to know your students and build community? When I plan week to week I can easily adjust to the interest level and topic of my students. Planning far ahead gives me the illusion of preparedness, but doesn’t help meet the goal of novelty and personalization of class.
  4. Classroom Setup: A well-decorated classroom can send students a strong message about how much you care for them before you even say hello. But, what are the absolute essentials you need for the first week? Since I teach Novice-Intermediate learners that means numbers, colors, structures for our first couple of classes, seating arrangement, and books/readers displayed for students. I got an early start this year, so I’ll add to my list this year a few covered bulletin boards (blank slates), perhaps some cute frivolity like hanging lanterns, and labeling of class objects in French. The rest can wait.
  5. Help Colleagues: Does someone need help hanging something? Picking up copies? Laminating?  By taking the burden of perfectionism and overachieving in this pared-down take to a new year, I have time to build community and help others. We are each other’s keeper.

In years prior I’ve worked myself to sickness in preparation for the school year by prioritizing lists of things to do with false deadlines I’ve created that have very little impact on those first few weeks with students. Since I’ve finally started considering my health, time, and energy a finite resource, I’ve got to be wise on how I allocate it. And with that, I wish you the most peaceful, centering, and prioritized school year ever :).

Actual photo of me this August exploring my new city with my boo.

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