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Taking off for a great year

  • Elementary
  • High School
  • Middle School
Irene Smith

Ah, the inexpressible joy of undirected, unregulated, aimless time! During most days during the school year, those moments are rare, and we sometimes feel as if they are stolen by our many educator responsibilities.There are just so darn many needs, demands, expectations, and opportunities.

The summer usually affords discretionary and relaxing time, so necessary for recharging depleted batteries. As lovely as summer rest is, however, it isn’t unusual for teacher thoughts to turn to the coming year. We can’t help but think about what is ahead and begin preparing. A bit of time in the summer makes all the difference for having a stress free start to the year.

It’s easiest to get a jump on things rather than try to build the plane while you’re already up in the air.



Every school district has adopted or recommended curriculum for their students. Some schools require strict adherence to adopted materials with a required pacing component, while others encourage teacher development and/or adaption of curriculum and supplementary materials to meet the particular needs and interests of their own classrooms. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides support for determining curriculum that is designed to help students meet the Common Core State Standards (CCSS.)  

Skilled teachers take the time to know the standards for their courses, their school’s adopted materials and resources, and determine what works well and what may require adaption. Even if you think you are familiar with your school’s curriculum, many resources are being updated and/or adding supplementary materials and improvements. It’s worth checking out before the school year begins in earnest.

Additionally, OSPI and Smarter Balanced have content resources to support where teachers wish to go when teaching towards the standards. Check out OSPI’s the Smarter Balanced Digital Library. These lesson plans and activities are free and have been developed by educators.  Warning: There are many of them, and you might want to have someone check in on you in case you get sucked in while viewing.

      Professional Development (PD)

Many educators take PD courses during their summer break. Along with workshops at universities and ESD’s, there are many fascinating and useful trainings that can be found online or conducted by study groups of colleagues. If you can’t find what you need, you can design your own PD doing self-study on a topic or strategy that interests you.  Personal growth plans (PGPs) are job-embedded, self-directed PD which can be created for achieving one’s goals, earning clock hours and maintaining teacher certification. Formal and informal support is available.

Your goal is a classroom environment optimized for learning and happy instruction.  Often what you learn for supporting one group of students will benefit all of your students.  For example, this blog by Nathan Lutz about instructing ELL students has practical application for individual students' learning as well as whole class instruction. 

Take advantage of opportunities to collaborate/communicate with knowledgeable colleagues. Corelaborate’s EdCamp opportunity in October might just provide you with great ideas and extend your network. Plus, it’s just fun to talk shop!


        SBA results and other data

Along with beginning to plan WHAT and HOW to teach, it’s extremely important to consider just WHO will be taught and what their particular needs might be.

Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) results are available soon after testing, and other measures, like progress monitoring for reading fluency or lexile, may also be readily available to use in planning. If you do not have ready access, ask your building or district administrators for guidance.

Since I teach all my school’s English Language Arts (ELA) courses for sixth, seventh and eighth grades, I am particularly interested in how my students did on the sections of the ELA SBA, although I also note their results on the Math SBA, since it helps me see when students are struggling across the board. Categories of particular interest to me are their performance levels for Reading, Writing, Listening, Research, and a writing performance task (Argumentative, Explanatory or Narrative.)  For example, when I looked at the 2019 Listening and Research results for my classes, I felt validated in my increased use of diverse media and research over the past school year and alerted to a need for greater focus on writing conventions at all levels. Since I will have most of these students again, I begin grouping students for differentiated instruction and small group work based on the SBA categories’ results and other data I’ve collected for these students.

If your students were given the SBA Interim Assessments, there is a useful tool for analyzing results, the Interim Assessments Interpretive Guide. Warning!  You will need to skim and scan as it is a lengthy document.

         Common Student Needs

You may not know the students yet, but you can know what to expect. You will have students with differences in background knowledge and experience, including students who are still learning English at varying levels of proficiency. You will have highly capable students, some who work with tenacity and perseverance and some who give up quickly and are highly sensitive. You will have students in need of help with mood regulation and resilience support as a result of trauma.  There will be students with IEP or 504 plans. You can prepare for these differences, with a toolbox of best practices, by learning best strategies for working with these populations and by building communities of other educators with expertise and experience to advise you. You can plan with these differences in mind.

A pleasurable part of summertime is getting together with friends and colleagues with whom you share students. These connections can provide ideas and make collaboration rewarding and enjoyable.


At the end of the school year, our school has a switcheroo day, and students visit the classrooms where they will be spending their next year. I took advantage of that opportunity and had my incoming sixth grade students (then fifth graders) provide me with a writing sample on the topic of learning and friendship. I also encouraged them to tell me anything they wanted me to know about them. This could be a good way to start the year with students who are unfamiliar to you. 

After reviewing my incoming students' thoughts, I have planned a book club for eight book lovers, which allows them to separate out for discussion activities, another read aloud group with some high interest animal stories for animal loving kids who need reading practice, while I work with a different group that needs specific help recognizing and writing complete sentences. I know that several students are lonely and will need help developing friendships, that M’s parents are divorcing, and she feels moody and distracted, that several students are shy and worried about doing presentations, and that animals and art are particular interests of multiple students. These tidbits of information can help me create entry tasks and opportunities that will engage students and strengthen them in areas where they struggle and need extra support.


In June I had my students assess my instruction and their learning for various standards with suggestions about what worked and what didn’t work for them. I learned that students would appreciate academic language (and grammar rules) earlier in the year with more practice (including the use of Kahoot!) to strengthen their understanding and identification of parts of speech and figurative language. According to their responses, many appreciated the variety of writing projects but would like more time for preparing projects and presentations. They learned some relationship skills and appreciated the time spent on identifying healthy habits and ways of communicating. Knowing they appreciated what we did (although they complained at the time) tells me to keep persisting with what we have done in those areas. 


There are many resources for helping make your room ready for optimal learning.  I suggest these Corelaborate blogs and other ideas as a great place to start:  

Scholastic 100 tips

Organizing for Learning

Elementary classroom reading culture

Secondary classroom built on agency and community

Creating a classroom community using a theme

Integrating research and inquiry learning as a part of your plan

Creating the right environment for learning 

Project-based learning via a school garden

Life/work balance

Secondary classroom management through engaging strategies


Getting a handle on what’s to come helps reduce stress and will help your year go more smoothly for you and your students.  Nevertheless, make sure the rest of your summer is full of joyful unplanned moments of just being. Look around you and recognize the good and the beautiful and the positive.  You might even want to take photographs, write some of your thoughts in a journal, and file away inspirational quotes or video clips, to pull out on the days when the journey gets difficult and the mountains and turbulence ahead seem insurmountable.  You’ve got this. You’re on your way.

  • Common Core State Standards
  • English Language Arts
  • Professional Development
  • Smarter Balanced Assessments
  • Social Emotional Learning
  • Teacher Collaboration
  • Teacher Tools
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The opinions expressed by the CORElaborate Bloggers, guest bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), Ready Washington or any employee thereof. PSESD is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Washington State Teacher Leader or Guest Bloggers.

Irene Smith Board

National Board Certified Teacher at Discovery Lab School

Irene Smith teaches middle school Language Arts and Social Studies to clever, interesting, and energetic students.She is married to her best friend, Brad, and they have five grown up children.She loves backpacking on the Olympic Peninsula, spending time with her grandchildren, reading and writing books, and going to Shakespeare plays.

Twitter: @TeachLearnHope