10 Little-Known Back to School Tips for a Smooth Year!

It's summer for many of us, and since the school year is creeping up quickly, I wanted to drop some little-known tips I've compiled over the years to make the school year smooth sailing. The catch is, these tips are most effective when implemented from Day 1, so make sure to bookmark this for the beginning of the year! I'm hoping this blog post gives you some unique tips to help you stay organized, save time, and connect with families!

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links that earn me a small commission when you purchase at no cost to you. Thank you for helping to support being able to purchase more supplies for my classroom!

Save All Class Photos Immediately to Google Drive

I'm going to start with my personal favorite! This is such a time-saving hack, especially if you're an end-of-the-year class video maker like I am (or you would like to be but can never get it all together in time!) But that's for another blog post...

I take TONS of pictures throughout the year. Like, tons. It's so easy to carry my phone with me and snap in action photos of kids during group work, independent reading, or during special events. I think it's so much fun to look back at all of the memories and it's always a favorite for my classroom families, too. The problem was, I never actually got around to organizing those pictures until all of the May-chaos hit. Then I was left scrambling and trying to find and organize pictures from all of our events before the year was over.

Not anymore! Now, at the end of every week, I make it a point to upload all of the photos I took that week to my school Google Drive folder specifically for "Class Photos." This keeps all of the photos in chronological order and keeps them from getting mixed in with my personal family photos. It also allows me to delete photos as I go (I did not get an iPhone with enough storage...oops!) No more rushing around at the last minute trying to figure out where all of my pictures went! One year my phone crashed and I didn't have my pictures backed up. I was devastated that I lost ALL of our beginning of the year photos!

SIDE NOTE: My husband got me an LED picture frame for Christmas and I house it in my classroom. The kiddos love seeing pictures of themselves pop up along with pictures of my family. It doesn't require wifi, just load a cheap USB drive with some photos and you are good to go!

Take a First Week Picture!

I say first week, because, let's be honest, the first day of school is always SO chaotic. In my six years of teaching, I have very rarely ever been able to snap all of my student's pictures on the first day. But, it's so fun to be able to make a first and last week of school side-by-side photo for student keepsakes and it can only happen if you do it early!

I suggest keeping the same sign for all of the kiddos to cut down on the time it takes to snap a pic. This cuts down on possible behavior problems in the first week of school where the other kids might not be able to keep themselves occupied without some reminders.

Of course, when you are done with these pictures, be sure to upload them to your Google Drive like I mentioned earlier. You will thank yourself later when everything is nicely organized.

Start a Compliment Doc for Your Students

If you are anything like me, you clam up at parent teacher conferences in the fall and find it hard to find a specific, genuine compliment for every kiddo - not because you don't have one, but simply because conferences make you nervous! Or maybe you have to make a difficult phone call and need a positive to start off with. Starting a Google Doc or clipboard with your kids names will allow you to easily record positive things you see to relay to families at a later time. Do not share this document directly with parents of course - but rather use it to write a sweet note, postcard, or starting point for a phone call. Delete the compliment if it was super specific after you share to ensure you don't sound like a broken record! Read more about how I encourage positive parent connections in this blog post.

Store Extra Student Supplies in Ziploc Baggies

This was a huge help last year! I feel like the longer the kids keep ALL of their supplies at their seats, the quicker they blow through them. I started off the year having a gallon Ziploc baggie with each child's name on an Avery label so it was easy to see. I had them keep their scissors, some pencils, ONE big eraser, a glue stick, a dry erase marker, and anything else we might use on a daily basis. They put these supplies in their pencil box or pouch. Plenty of room!

Then, I had them put all of the "sometimes" or extra supplies in their labeled Ziploc bag. I'm not a huge fan of community supplies (unless I provide them myself) and this ensures that every child still has access to their supplies when they run out. But only having access to a limited amount of supplies from the beginning helps them keep better track of their stuff... and it's less stuff for them to be distracted by! When we need markers or crayons or colored pencils, it's super easy to send each kid to grab their bag out of the cabinet and go! This may not work as well for younger grades who use markers and such daily, but it works for my fourthies! You could always have them keep their markers and such in their supply box too... but no one needs 48 pencils and a dozen cap erasers in their desk all year long!

Create Multiple New Student Kits & Label Sets

It wasn't until I switched districts that I realized how frequently students can transition in and out of schools. I was very sheltered and completely surprised when I had 4 roster changes my first year in my new school! I was NOT prepared.

Beginning when I print my Open House Flipbook and Meet the Teacher Newsletters, I create 5-6 extra copies of all back to school night handuts. I get a gallon Ziploc bag of all these items and begin my extra parent information packs. I even include extras of my Welcome to School gift (usually a Bitmoji note with a sucker) to ensure new kiddos feel welcomed even without the typical back to school night. I throw in some of the school pamphlets and some extra school supplies in case they come with nothing. This allows me to grab a packet the very first day and send it home with students so their families can get to know their new teacher and classroom.

The second thing I do is assemble a PowerPoint document that has ALL of the name labels I use on one document. I do this by either using the Snipping Tool to copy all of the pictures onto one page OR I copy each slide I need into one central document and name it "New Student 2020." This allows me to easily make all of the name labels I need quickly when I am informed of a new student. It really makes the kids feel welcome if I had enough notice to print and laminate their nameplates before they even arrived! I know often we get kids at the very last minute, but this document saves me tons of time in the event that I do have a day or two of notice!

Create Master Folder of Frequently Copied Items

I always begin the year with a master folder of frequently copied items. In my folder is my student checklists for each subject, any PBS bucks our school uses, parent contact logs, behavior forms, and anything else I find myself looking for frequently. It's always such a relief when I don't have to look for this. Sometimes I even keep this folder in my mailbox in the copy room so it is easily accessible when I need it.

Master Sub Plans and Emergency Copies

In keeping with the "masters" theme, this is the time of year to make master sub plans and emergency copies for those times you are too sick to come up with other material. I like to keep an Emergency Sub Tub with labeled hangong folders for each subject area I teach. I will add items to each section, for example, after we finish place value, I will add some independent place value practice that we may not have gotten to complete. I go ahead and copy a complete class set so that it's ready to go. This ensures that the practice pages in the emergency tub is material the students have seen and will require no fresh teaching from in the event that I do not have time to write plans (like a puking kid at 6AM!) I add to this throughout the year so there is a variety of choices when my plans read: Math - pull an activity or two from the bin!

As far as a Master Sub Plan template, I fill in all of my schedules, times, procedures, and other information that doesn't change. Then, when I need to be out, all I have to do is fill out specific information under each of those subject areas. Don't let the first time you have to be out the first time you write plans for the year! I've made that mistake more than once! Go in prepared. The first time you need to write the plans, you will be glad you invested the time!

Take a Student Interest Inventory

No, I don't mean the typical student inventory about what their favorite subject is or what they want to work on in school this year (although I do those too!) I'm talking an inventory of their favorite stuff: candy, colors, drinks, snacks, the whole lot of it!

Gift giving is my love language and I love to buy things for my students. If you don't, that's totally okay! I've used the knowledge I get from these inventories to buy each child their favorite snack before state testing or for end of the year. You could also do it to get "reward" items if your school uses PBIS and you have class incentives they can earn. I also surveyed their favorite kind of donuts one year to surprise them with donuts after a raving review from a sub or after a tough week of state testing. They loved it and since I had done the survey earlier on (under the guise of seeing what we all had in common) they were even more surprised because they had forgotten about it! You could also use this survey for authentic data later in the year when you teach the Measurement and Data unit.

I always gave my "favorites" survey on Google Forms because it was easy to customize and pull up all of the information later. You could survey them with open-ended questions or add multiple choice so that their choices are narrowed down to just a few (that makes it much easier to buy things in bulk later!)

Print Out Your Parent Postcards

Printing postcards ahead of time is the biggest time saver ever! I love having a stack of fresh cards to jot down a quick note from my Compliment Doc. I print off many of my seasonal versions of my Positive Parent Postcards before the year begins and a fresh address label sheet so I have my notes ready to go. No time to print, cut, and organize cards? Find some you like in my Etsy store and buy them premade!

Starting off the year with positive parent contact within the first two weeks will greatly improve parental support and student morale! So often my first contact with parents was when there was a problem, and if the first contact is negative, then the family's perception may be that you only see the "bad" things. Positive contact eliminates that presumption and allows for a strong foundation between school and home to be built!

Print Mini Schedules/Roster

The beginning of the year is always a crazy time. Even if I have my automatic music transitions set up, I still like having a visual on hand at all times to remember when we are supposed to transition to different activities. I also like to have a mini class roster on my lanyard in the event I need to take roll during an emergency and didn't grab my clipboard.

Both of these can be easily made by setting your PowerPoint slide size to 8.5x11, duplicating the slide 4 times, and printing 4 slide thumbnails to a page during printing. I always like to have a few extra copies on hand to put on a lanyard for a substitute teacher or for when mine gets worn out. Click here for a TikTok Tutorial! 😂

I hope these tips are helpful to get you thinking about things that you can do in August (or September) when school starts to help the rest of the year flow smoothly! Have a great school year, teacher friends! We're all in this together. ❤️

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