Teaching Opinion

Response: “A Good Beginning is More Than Half of the Whole”

By Larry Ferlazzo — August 11, 2013 6 min read
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(This is the last of a two-part series. You can see Part One here. It builds upon a series on the same topic that was posted last year)

I’m not yet done posting my thematic “Q & A Collections” that bring together posts from the past two years, but I know that many of us will be starting the new school year soon.

So, I wanted to take a one-week break from posting those compilations and, instead, consider this question again:

“What’s your best advice on getting the new school year off to a good start?”

I’ve previously posted a three-part series on that same topic, but we teachers can never get enough good advice on how to best approach this important time of the year.

Earlier this week, teacher and author Julia Thompson provided a guest response. Today, author/educators Joanne Rooney, Harry and Rosemary Wong, and Peggy Campbell-Rush provide their suggestions. I’ve also included ideas sent-in by readers.

Response From Joanne Rooney

Joanne Rooney is an educational consultant and principal mentor in Palatine, Illinois. She is a former principal and assistant professor of educational leadership at National Louis University, Chicago, Illinois. Her article “For Principals: Planning the First Year” is available for free in the summer 2013 digital issue of Educational Leadership magazine:

“A Good Beginning is More than Half of the Whole” are words ascribed to the philosopher Plato. Teachers, unlike those in other profession, are able to begin anew, each year. Some reminders will help:

Build relationships. Call the kids by name. Know as much as possible about each child. Aim for their hearts as well as their minds. Let them know you care about them - individually and collectively. Likewise, know that educating kids is a team effort. Other teachers, staff and administrators are part of that village needed to “raise a child.” Don’t think you are a lone ranger.

Tell your story. What do you expect from the kids? And what do you promise them as their teacher? What do YOU think “going to school” means.

Articulate rules. They should be few, clear, absolutely consistent and fair.

Prepare the first day and week with meticulous care. Involve the kids in the learning process.

Plan learning activities immediately. The answer to “what did you learn in school today?” should be easy for students to answer after day one.

Check your own attitude. Loving your job makes each day easier - no matter how hard it is. Remind yourself daily that your work is about kids and real learning - not scores. Teaching is a work of the spirit as well as the mind.

Build relationships . . . or did we say that already? I can’t stress this enough.

Response From Harry and Rosemary Wong

Harry and Rosemary Wong are authors of The First Days of School and the forthcoming THE Classroom Management Book:

Ed Aguiles is principal of a school in New Jersey and says, “Success for me has always been about procedures and routines. In my fifteen years in education I have been a teacher, a guidance counselor, a vice principal, a principal, and now a director of curriculum and instruction. Recognizing that each of those roles has specific procedures and routines which must be developed, practiced, and nurtured is what has made me an effective educator.”

He has taught all of his teachers to start the school year with a classroom management plan, probably in PowerPoint, and at the end of the first day of school, he and the assistant principal teach all the students the procedure for dismissal. They can load a thousand kids on buses in 10 minutes. His story can be seen here.

Coaches go into a game with a game plan. Pilots have flight plans. Wedding coordinators have wedding plans. Effective teachers have a classroom management plan with all the procedures necessary for a classroom to run consistently and smooth for learning to take place.

As you begin to prepare for the upcoming school year please remember that one of the most important gifts we can give our students is to be consistent and predictable. Our students come from homes where chaos and unpredictability are the norm. We can provide a place for our students that is safe, predictable, consistent and nurturing. Research shows that providing such an environment for our students will increase achievement.

Response From Peggy Campbell-Rush

Peggy Campbell-Rush is director of the Lower School at Gill St. Bernard’s School in Gladstone, New Jersey. She has published six books, including Tricks of the Trade: In and Out of the Classroom (Crystal Springs Books, 2001) and Success for Struggling Learners: Techniques That Target Your Students’ Needs (Crystal Springs Books, 2002). She writes about her first year as a principal, in the Summer Educational Leadership article, “My First Year Journey":

As many great novels begin with, “It all started with a phone call...,” that is how a great year begins for me. In August I call each and every student to say that I cannot wait to see his/her smiling face on the first day of school. Yes, it is a time commitment, but it is priceless. Many students are so anxious to tell me about their summer -- one even asked if he could bring his bike to school on the first day because he just learned how to ride and wanted to show me! Some students are shy and quiet on the phone; however, their parents assure me that the phone call was excitedly shared with friends, neighbors and grandparents.

When I call my students’ homes before the school year starts, it’s to talk to the kids. I only identify myself on the phone and ask to speak to the child. If a parent has a quick question, I’ll answer it; but if it’s a bigger concern, I ask to meet or talk later. This primary phone call is all about the kids.

This one commitment, of contacting all my students, really sets the tone for a great year. I even call my last year’s 4th graders to wish them luck in Middle School. One parent told me that this phone call was the turning point for her daughter who was so nervous to go to middle school. This student said, “If Mrs. Rush believes in me, then I know I can do it.”

Responses From Readers

Paul Ingram:

At the beginning of the year I use a quote from TS Eliot

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
― T.S. Eliot

I have a little worksheet made up. Look for beginnings and endings here.

John Bennett:

Pretty simple (really!!!) for me:

1. Make my efforts supportive of student-controlled group work (PBL).
2. Provide a classroom environment supportive of increased student intrinsic motivation.
3. Consciously and deliberately build empathic connections with students and other teachers.
4. Work to ensure all students develop the skills of effective learning and effective problem solving.
5. Seek to insure that my student evaluation / assessment is appropriate and at the same time input to improved student learning.

Anonymous (because “I have a job in a school without a decent principal":

It is hard to imagine a good start to next year. Read the New York Times article on the new test scores. 75% of high school teachers will teach correctly fearing a D or I on the HEDI scale.

I doubt that many students or parents feel good knowing the test scores.

Feel free to leave a comment sharing your thoughts on what’s been shared here.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose a free book from a variety of education publishers.

Just a reminder -- you can subscribe to this blog for free via RSS Reader or email....

And,if you missed any of the highlights from the first year of this blog, you can check them out here.

I’ll return to publishing two-year compilations for the next week or two, and then begin a year of forty new questions!

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.