Are You “Prepared?”

The other day, I was speaking to a friend of mine about preparing for the new school year. I’m usually very organized.

  • My long-range plans are done.
  • I’ve prepared activities for the first week of school.
  • I’ve laminated and cut-out materials for the classroom.
  • My daybook plan for the first week is complete.
  • I’ve written my September Newsletter, and it’s ready to be photocopied.
  • All of the materials that I have at home that need to go back to school are prepared and ready to load into my car.

This year, I haven’t done any of these things. When I was talking to my friend I said, “I’m not prepared to go back!” But I’ve been thinking about that conversation for the past couple of days, and maybe that’s not true.

I haven’t done the things on this list yet because …

  • I’m moving schools. I’ve only seen the new classroom once, and I can’t remember everything that’s in it — especially everything that’s in the teacher cabinet. I have to have another look before I decide what to bring in.
  • I don’t have my schedule yet. I’m not sure what the day looks like, what subjects I’m teaching, and what subjects are being taught through my preps. This information will impact on my daily plan. When it comes, I can then start finalizing the look of the day.
  • I’ve only met once with the new Grade 1 team, and we’re planning on meeting next week to finalize our plans. Daily activities, newsletters, and daybook plans have to come after these planning sessions.
  • I haven’t met the students yet — this could be the most important reason of all! For the past nine years, I taught at the same school. I taught many students multiple times — some as many as four years — and I knew almost everyone in the building. Planning was easier because I could truly plan with the students in mind. With my school change, I’ve had to rely on reading OSR’s, speaking to previous teachers, and reading general overviews on each child. Over the years, I’ve learned that students are rarely exactly as they appear on paper, and meeting students, making connections with them, learning about their strengths and needs, and then moving forward is important.

This doesn’t mean that I plan on going into the new year blindly. In fact, since I took this photograph of the new classroom during the first week in July, my mind continues to be on school.

A Look At My New Grade 1 Classroom

A Look At My New Grade 1 Classroom

My preparation though is different than it’s been in the past.

  • I’ve been talking online — through Twitter — with mainly Reggio-inspired Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers. My Grade 1’s will be coming out of a Full-Day Kindergarten Program that embraces many of the Reggio philosophies. I want to look at how to bring this programming up to Grade 1. I’ve been thinking and chatting about classroom design, program design, scheduling, inquiry approaches, and balancing curriculum and student interests.
  • I’ve been reading educational books on inquiry and technology that I think would be beneficial for classroom use. A Place For Wonder, Teaching the iStudentand Why Are All School Buses Always Yellow? have given me lots to consider. Now I have new ideas for provocations, questioning activities, and technology resources that could be beneficial in Grade 1.
  • I’ve been re-reading all of the curriculum documents. I’ve been thinking about how the expectations align. I’ve been considering what might interest Grade 1 students, and how their interests can parallel with the overall expectations. I’ve been looking at the student needs — at least the ones outlined on paper — and considering various entry points (to hopefully lead to increased success).
  • I’ve been learning more about the Pals and K-Pals Programones that the Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers have used in the past. I’ve been thinking about ways that I could use this program while still maintaining a large block of time for inquiry/comprehensive literacy. I struggle with scripted programs, but talking to my teaching partners, I hear that there are lots of benefits to this program for students. I’m hoping that I can have an inquiry/comprehensive literacy block, a math block, and a period for Pals and K-Pals. Science, Social Studies, and The Arts can be integrated with literacy and math. Depending on the schedule, this could work (fingers crossed). 
  • I’ve been talking in-person with various educators. Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to meet with the new Grade 1 team, and we discussed ways to link inquiry and oral language and start moving into some reading and writing possibilities. I also spoke to a Grade 2 teacher in Peel, Jonathan So, about The Daily 5. We talked about how to get started, the need for sustained reading and writing time, but also how to possibly use the format with some Wonder Centres: still allowing for the elements of choice, but also linking Language with Science and Social Studies.

Maybe I’m a little more prepared than I thought. Maybe preparation doesn’t need to mean long written plans and yearly schedules. Maybe we can prepare the most by reading, thinking, questioning, talking, and listening (in a continual loop). I guess that I’ll see how prepared I feel when I walk into the classroom to begin setting up on Monday morning. How do you prepare for a new school year? How do you balance scheduling restrictions, school desires, team thoughts, and student needs as you plan ahead? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


16 thoughts on “Are You “Prepared?”

  1. I am a supply teacher so I am always going into new places. I am doing an LTO in Phys Ed. in September. I have not even seen the space yet. Like you I spent my time talking to teachers who teach phys Ed., looking up suggestions for physical literacy through OPHEA and the twitter-verse and signing up for some PD on physical literacy in September. That way when I see what exactly I have to work with, I can plan with background knowledge already in place. Good luck with your new job!

    • Thanks for the comment, Heather! Good luck with your new LTO position in September. It sounds like we’ve been planning in similar ways. I don’t know which phys-ed teachers you follow on Twitter, but I actually follow quite a few that I love learning from online. If you want to tweet me (@avivaloca), I’m happy to share some names with you. Maybe you can all learn together.

      Have a great year!

  2. I am a BIG advocate of the PALS program; it is evidence-based and follows the response to intervention paradigm. Above all, it worked for me and my students for whom I didn’t know what else to try. That said, I encourage you to apply the same principles of differentiated and personalized instruction to PALS that you do to all other aspects of your program; realistically, some of your learners will be ready to start at Lesson 1, others at Lesson 15 (as determined by the included assessment), some won’t need the program at all, and you may have a few who need to develop the sound-symbol association to start at Lesson 1. Although PALS is traditionally done in a whole-group format, I myself have done it that way, I had more success when I followed the program in a small-group format. Let me know if you’d like more information, best of luck as you start your new adventure!

    • Thanks for the comment, Robyn! You just made me feel very happy. When I was speaking to my grade team about PALS, we talked a lot about the whole class option. Yes, there was some differentiated instruction discussed, but not in exactly the way that you outlined. I’d love to hear more about how you incorporated PALS in a small group format. If students will benefit from this program, then I’d love to use it, but I’d definitely feel more comfortable running a program with just those students that need it (in the way that they need it). I’d love to talk to the team more about your ideas as well!

      Thanks again!

  3. This is great, Aviva! This is how I see our prep now for the beginning of a year. It is time for research, reflection, experimentation and sharing ideas with colleagues. My plan is that right now I have no plan. I want to get into the space, set up some invitations to learning (provocations) and build the classroom with my students. I want to spend real time getting to know what they like, how they play, interact with each other and what they are truly curious about. Much cant be planned before I am with the students. I am excited for what is to come… Looking forward to sharing with you!


    • Thanks for the comment, Tracey! I’m glad that we’re on a similar page here. I think that student responses to our initial provocations will tell us a lot. As we get to know the students and their interests more, the planning will come along — but it will be with the students. Knowing the expectations will help us as we figure out even more of the links between student interests and curriculum expectations. I’m very excited to hear more about what you do, and I’m eager for us to share & learn together as the year goes on.


  4. Hi Aviva,

    I always struggle with “being prepared”, as I have trouble separating the first day of school from the whole entire year. Even when I have a day or a week or a unit planned, I still always feel like there is so much more I could or should be doing. I’m trying to embrace the mantra, “One thing at a time” (I even sing it to myself to a little tune) and become more focused on getting one task done at a time. I’m working on my first week plans. I have long range plans and a schedule ready, but I keep bumping from one idea to the next.

    One thing I DON’T “prepare” ahead of the first day is classroom decoration. Sometimes I feel bad when I see other teachers’ beautifully decorated rooms, but I feel very strongly that the students should have ownership over and a say in how their learning space is organized and decorated. Some years, kids and parents show up and are puzzled at the blankness of my room, but I really believe that’s the way I like to start my year.


    • Thanks for the comment, Shauna! We definitely share the same philosophy about having the students decorate the room. It’s their room too, and I think that they should own it (regardless of the grade).

      When it comes to planning for teaching, I’m torn. I like to look ahead, I love to see the big picture, & I feel much better when I’m well-organized & well-prepared. Inquiry changed my approach to planning though. I still plan, but looking more closely at student interests and needs, and changing my plans to match their needs. How can we balance the need to be prepared, ensure that we’re meeting all curriculum expectations, and also respond to our students (and where their needs are at the time)? Does planning too far ahead stop us from really planning with our students in mind (addressing their needs as they arise)? I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions this summer. I’d be curious to hear what people think.


      • Hi Aviva,

        I think planning too far ahead can leave the students out of the equation. Typically, I over plan by a factor of four. I usually have four years’ worth of units and lessons by the end of any given year. I’m trying to sketch out a framework for the year with the big ideas, but leave room for student interest, spontaneity and planning as I go. I’m nowhere near finding a balance yet, though!

        Something that worked well for me the past few years was to have students design their own tasks and tie them back to the curriculum themselves (with my guidance, of course!). That might be a lot trickier in grade 1, though.

        • Shauna, I tend to over plan too, so I totally get it. I think that having a framework in place, but then tailoring that framework to the students (based on different factors) seems like a great idea!

          While it may be hard to have Grade 1 students design their own tasks, I loved the idea in COMPREHENSION AND COLLABORATION: INQUIRY CIRCLES IN ACTION of having students decide how to share their learning. Even young students were doing this, and in fact, it kind of aligns with the FDK model of teaching and learning. Some students might need more scaffolding, but I can always do this. Maybe this is a way to try a similar approach to yours, but in a younger grade. Thanks for the reminder!


  5. Hi Aviva,
    Thank you so much for your post! I am in exactly the same boat. I am switching schools, I haven’t seen my classroom yet, I haven’t met anyone yet, my schedule isn’t made yet, and they told me that my assignment of teaching Grade 1 will probably change. I am a huge planner and am finding it really hard to sit and wait until I am told what I am doing.
    It’s nice to know I’m not alone!

    • Thanks for the comment, Amy! Maybe this forced change in our planning style is good for both of us. Instead of having the year completely mapped out, we can respond to the needs of our students while also reading and learning more along the way. We are planning — just differently. What do you think?


      • I absolutely agree! I’m planning on teaching completely differently this year. More student voice/choice, more discussions, more hands on learning and playing, more real world ie with calendar, blogging comments, skypes… Going to be an awesome growing year for me and my students!

        • Thanks for the comment, Amy! It sounds like you have a lot of exciting plans already for this year, and many more that will evolve throughout the year (with your students). I hope that you’ll share about the experiences. I look forward to learning with you!


  6. I am really keen on how you will continue to utilize the inquiry focus that is built in the FDK. How will you move forward to develop the skills of students now that they have a more defined curriculum but clear opportunities for inquiry (science, SSHG). I am willing to share ideas with you as well.

    • Thanks for the comment, Byron, and the offer to help! I would love to hear some more ideas from you. Last year, I looked at utilizing the FDK/inquiry model with my Grade 5’s, but with provocations that focused more on the curriculum expectations. I’m excited to see where this goes with the Grade 1’s (especially based on their experiences already in FDK). I’d welcome any advice!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *