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Sunday, 24 August 2014

An essential back to school checklist for NQTs

The new academic year is upon us and for some has already begun, but for those who do not return until 1st September I have compiled an essential back to school checklist. The list includes all of the things I have discovered over the years that really help me to hit the ground running at the beginning of the new academic year. With the constant pressures put upon all of those in education that can only be a good thing, there is nothing worse than getting to day two of the new term and already feeling behind and like you are running around like a headless chicken! 

The only way to prevent a chaotic first term is to take some of the time over the holidays to begin your preparation. Some people prefer to go into school right at the beginning whilst others would argue the case for the last week of the holidays but whichever you choose I would advise roping in any willing helpers you can. Hopefully your T.A. if you have one, if not long suffering friends and family can fit the bill nicely.

1. Planning:

It is essential to know what to are going to teach. Are there topics already in place? What were your year group taught last year? Always approach other teachers planning with caution though. After years of teaching myself I can genuinely say I have never repeated my own planning and have never followed another teachers. I use my own planning from last year as a starting point but each year I often find more up to date resources or have to alter my whole approach due to the cohort etc. If there is no planning in place start with the expectations for the year group or groups you are going to teach. Hopefully your SLT will provide you with some guidance here but if not there is a huge amount to be found very easily with a quick Google search. Here is quite a useful one from TES if you are stuck for time Overview of the new Primary Curriculum. 

The next step is to put these expectations into some sort of order to form your Long Term Plan. Perhaps by organising expectations into topics across the three terms, topics can be termly or half termly this really depends upon the topic and your cohort. When planning topics it is always useful to come up with an exciting way to launch your topic, this can come in the form of a class visit or visitor, a mysterious letter etc. And likewise an exciting way to round up or conclude the topic, again this could be a trip, a class party or celebration, an assembly or performance. Use the internet as much as you can, Hamilton Trust have lots of topic based planning and even if you do not want to follow it all it can act as a good starting point.

Phase two of your planning prep comes in the form of Medium Term Planning which sorts out the learning for a particular term or half term depending upon the topic. This requires a little more detail and breaks down the learning into weekly sections. Try to add in potential websites, books you may need, class visits you need to plan and when you will need them.

The final part of the planning is your Short Term planning weekly, daily, lesson plans, what you are going to be teaching across the whole week but written in a clear, more detailed format. This should link to resources for you daily plan such as Hamilton Trust or Abacus Evolve, particular books etc. It is essential to match your planning to both curriculum expectations and your learning outcomes for the individual lessons. What do you want the children to learn? Lots of schools will have a suggested format for your planning but if not do some research both on the web and from colleagues in the school. 

2. The Teaching and learning environment:

I have written in previous blog posts about the road to outstanding teaching and believe that environment plays a huge part in this. .

This is where your friends and family can come in really useful. The first job is to start with a blank canvas, make sure all previous display boards are stripped and your classroom is clean and tidy. Hopefully your school with have a caretaker and a cleaning team, if so make friends with them immediately! If you have them on your side you will always have a tidy room. Once stripped and prepped the next step is to put up some displays. 

If you are not given any guidance from the school here go and have a look around in other rooms. Its great to get a feel for the school when it is empty and it will give you a sense of what is expected. I would suggest as a starting point a Literacy and a  Numeracy working wall. A good tip here is to place some garden netting over the top of the backing to act s a place to peg pupils work up because as a working wall this display will and should alter if not daily at least weekly. The netting will therefore prevent you having to change it at all for the year which is always a bonus.  

You will also need a topic display which you can have prepped with the topic heading and maybe with some questions and some books at the base. Next you should think about a board for behaviour management with statements of expectations and sanctions, try to keep it as positive as possible. Research is required here to ensure you follow the schools behaviour policy but often even where there is a clear policy schools allow individual teachers to have their own reward systems.

Learning zones are really useful if you have he space but even the tiniest rooms should be clearly labelled and organised with the basics such as a reading area, writing area. An investigation area is always a good area to have as it can cover all of subjects including Literacy, Maths, Science and topic. Be creative and really try to make the space clear, uncluttered but fun.

All resources should also be labelled such as pupils books, trays or boxes but also trays with printer paper, lined paper, pencils, rulers etc. You will need to think if you would like resources such as pencils, rulers etc be on the tables or not. I prefer not to as often this just gives pupils something to mess with. However, I do have to then ensure all resources are easily accessible and clearly marked. Pinterest provides lots of ideas for creative classroom environments and is well worth a look. Here are some ideas for decorating your classroom door which the children really love and certainly make a positive statement about you and your classroom. 

3. Know your Cohort:

It is essential that you know your pupils. You will obviously after the first couple of weeks of term have learned a lot about them but in order to make an impact straight away it is essential that you do your research. Ask for up to date data which should provide you with where your pupils were at the end of last year and where they need to be at the end of the new academic year based upon their year group end of year expected national level as well as based upon their individual expected level. This will help ensure good to outstanding individual progress. This information allows you to plan, sort your pupils into groups, identify any pupils  that may need individual or group interventions, extending or support. All vital components of ensuring progress. A meeting with the assessment coordinator or a member of the SLT would be great but if they are not available until the start of term have a go at analysing the data yourself. Ideally you should also have a meeting with the teacher who taught your pupils last year for a proper hand over which allows you to find out their family life, friendship groups, who they work well with, who they should not sit next to etc This will all again really help you to make a well prepared and informed start. 

Prepare a class 'mark book' with all of your pupils names, end of last year data at the beginning of the line, Where they are now, and their expected end of this year data at the other end, Where they need to be. Leave sufficient space in between for half termly assessment to be added. This allows you to track progress throughout the year. Have a different page for Reading, Writing, Numeracy, Science etc as well as a page for things like times tables and mental maths scores, homework and reading books. all of which will provide essential information for parents evenings and give you a reminder about who needs chasing up for homework or who needs more times tables practice etc.

I hope my checklist has helped rather than put you into a blind panic! Remember this preparation will be for each new academic year not just your NQT year. Teachers in schools all around the country are preparing for their new pupils too and no matter how long you teach each new year is a fresh start, new pupils, new topics, new Government initiatives..... That is what makes teaching the challenging yet amazingly rewarding profession that it is! Try to be prepared as you can to help ensure a good productive and happy start to your school year!

Good Luck and above all else enjoy because happy teachers make happy pupils and happy pupils are much more likely to achieve!