As we embark upon a new school year it seems a teacher’s job is never complete. There will always be more to do or another way to do things.  Like starting  a large jigsaw puzzle, it can be daunting and overwhelming to consider all of the pieces that need to be put into place.  But soon the straight edges will be in place and the intricate and unique design of this years class will be visible.

Most are tasks at this time of year are  easily identifiable – setting up the classroom, teaming with colleagues, contacting families and planning both short and long-term. There are also the soft skills that need to be planned for. These are the skills and traits that mark schools of the future and need to be both embedded into your curriculum and taught explicitly.  Pat Bassett outlined these in his TEDX talk (well-worth a bit of time when you’re ready to be inspired).   In the context of the start of school, these “soft skills” and hallmarks of 21st century schools might include:

  • Getting to know each other
  • Learning how to be in school and work together
  • How to communicate effectively and respectfully
  • How to ask questions and seek answers
  • How to be a critical consumer of information
  • How to care for materials and individuals
  • How to listen
  • How to help and be helped
  • How to manage stress
  • How to celebrate accomplishments, both individual and group

Before teachers and students can dive into the rich and complex higher-order learning that will be required in the 21st century, a foundation must be carefully laid. You can do some homework and reflection to build that foundation before students arrive, carefully crafting the infrastructure.  Then the shape and tenor of the class can be  constructed cooperatively  around the framework you design. This foundation needs to have several layers:

  • An understanding of the people in your class (individually and in a broader context)
  • A vision for community building that sets the tone and responds to the needs and strengths of individuals and the class
  • Hopes and dreams that evolve into goals for each member and the group
  • Proactive strategies for discipline and an expectation that rules will be forgotten and broken
  • A solid understanding of the content you will teach

Much of the foundation you need can be shaped in the teaching practices and foundational ideas of Responsive Classroom.  Here’s a brief snapshot of how each of these 5 elements of your foundation are supported and enhanced by this approach.


  1. Know your kids developmentally, culturally, individually.  This starts with a deep understanding of child development. I’ve written before on theimportance of understanding child development. If you’re not familiar with Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom 4-14 , there’s still plenty of time to read up.  Or consider visiting the archives of Chip Wood’s website to read the positive attributes post for the age you will work with this year.
  2. Build community – both the tangibles and intangibles.  The physical environment you create will serve as the “third teacher” and set the tone for  your community of learners.  Deliberate organization and a warm and welcoming environment will welcome your students.  Your words, actions and activities should be designed to foster a sense of belonging, significance and fun for all, allowing for a level of comfort that promotes social and academic risk taking.
  3. Set realistic goals – for yourself and your class community.  Spend some time considering your personal and professional hopes for the year, as well as what you hope your students will achieve.  Plan for time during the first two weeks to let students explore this idea and to articulate their hopes.  Connect these to literature, experiences in the classroom and they way the community functions together.  Record it so it becomes a  living, breathing document that comes to life in your classroom throughout the year.
  4. Have a proactive strategies  – for discipline.  This starts with the deliberate building sense of belonging, significance and fun.  It continues by clearly articulating guidelines and rules, and choose your language carefully so children learn you say what you mean and mean what you say. Responsive Classroom’s Positive teacher language  is a prime example of how to use your language to help you invest in proactive strategies which minimize disruptions and allow for learning to occur.
  5. Know your content – whether it’s school curriculum or the common core, read up and stay current with best practices.  Learning is a journey, so if you’ve been teaching for 25 years or just starting out, there is always something to learn. Study  your content, study the grades above and below you,  refine your resources, hone your skills. You’re sure to learn something from your students, too.  Adopting the Responsive Classroom approach can help you create the positive community and effectively manage your class, all while digging deep into your academic content. Want to read more about how this approach can help you stay at the forefront of learning in the 21 century? Read Teaching Tools for the 21st Century by Lora Hodges of the Northeast Foundation for Children.

I’ve curated some fantastic resources to help you follow these five resources that I’ll be sharing over the next two weeks.  Follow along on Facebook or sign up to receive these posts directly to your inbox.

All the best for a fantastic start to the school year!





Lisa Dewey Wells

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