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October's Teacher Success Tips

Organizing Your Classroom, Celebrating Fall, and Having Fun in the Classroom

(Psst, teachers! This is ONE MONTH in my popular 12-month series! See the whole series here and have an awesome year!)

Happy October, Teachers! Pause…

Bravo my friend! September is a beast of a marathon – and you’ve survived beautifully! If May is the longest month in the school year, then September is undoubtedly the shortest! How many of us have spun around and suddenly noticed that September has – POOF! – disappeared and here we are… it’s October!? September is craziness! Back To School season, organizing, decorating and preparing our classrooms, lesson planning for the first month of school, Open House events, meeting new students and their parents, and just getting our classrooms ready. It’s no wonder that September feels like the shortest month in the school year. (Check out my month-by-month Teacher Survival Tips for the entire year!)

October, on the other hand, well, October is when time seems to come slightly back to normal for just a moment. That is, before the craziness of the holiday season brings us back to Warp Speed! October is a wonderful time in the school year rhythm to slow down, take a few deep metaphoric breaths and celebrate the amazing kick off that you just endured for a new school year.

… and Celebrate!

Take a moment to reflect on what has gone really well so far. Are you super proud of the way you organized, arranged or decorated your classroom? Or the personalized bulletin board that you made for your students that seemed like it took forever to make but is now SO worth it? How about that first day of school lesson that went incredibly well and set the tone for the rest of the year?

If you’ve made it to this point in the school year and you can hang your hat on an awesome start, then that is cause for MAJOR celebration! September is by far the craziest month in the school year so HORRAY! You rocked this one!

Take a Good Look Around

With September and Back-To-School season being such a whirlwind, take some time to yourself this month to really take a good look around at your classroom and space. Is there anything getting in the way of you being the best teacher you could be? Is there something that’s not working for you or for kids?

I remember my first year teaching and how, a few weeks into the school year, I realized that my classroom setup was ALL WRONG. Being the new teacher, I thought, “Well, let’s just see how this works out. It worked for the last teacher.” Looking back now, I can also admit that I was scared to change my classroom around, for fear of seeming too brazen or finding that the old arrangement was better, after all.

However from day to day, students had difficulty moving in and out of their seats during class, as we’d break from whole-group instruction into labs. The front of my classroom was crammed with everything, including a SmartBoard, my only filing cabinet and the entirety of board space in the classroom.

In October, I finally caught my breath long enough to look at my class as “the big picture.” The best move I made was to move my SmartBoard to the rear of the class and flip my projector on wheels. When students needed to observe it, they just turned their chairs around and used the table behind them for desk space. My students in the back row finally got to use those adorable fluorescent science clipboards they’d been asking to use. That was the PERFECT arrangement for my classroom. In fact, it worked so smoothly that I kept the same classroom setup I used for the next four years in that school.

Could your classroom use some reconfiguration in October?

Is the seating chart and desk/table arrangement still effective? Do students “get into” something everyday that causes distractions? (paper clips in my table caddies – sheesh!) Are there piles of papers or class supplies starting to gather in a particular spot? Where might be their new home? Or do you need some organization supplies? What are some “traffic hazards” during transition time or when students leave for Specials? Are there some classroom procedures that need to be established (or re-visited) at this time? Ex. protocols for group work, culture-building norms, or processes for turning in assignments? Are there elements of your day that could be turned over for students to manage, in order to maximize your time instructionally and empower student leaders? Ex. Pass Back Managers, snack helpers, time keepers, etc.

October is a really great time to refine all of your classroom practices and procedures in order to “go fast” the rest of the year. Take a critical look at the way you do business, and don’t be afraid to change things for the best! It’s definitely not too late! If organization is the issue, consider some low-cost options for organizing the classroom, before we get too far down the road!

Have A Little Fun

I must admit that some of my favorite lessons of all time are lessons that I teach during the first few weeks of school. After all, I’m always super excited to try the new strategies I learned over the summer. I want my students to see just how much fun we can have while learning at the same time. Fun lessons are a really great way to help students shake off the summer and get down to the business of learning.

It’s no wonder that in October, I start to get into the more routine tasks that are curriculum delivery and getting in sync with my pacing guide. Don’t get me wrong about curriculum – if teaching wasn’t fun, I would’ve left a professional a long time ago! So here’s a fun, friendly reminder to infuse just as much fun into October as we did in September!

Now that I work in high school, Homecoming is a big deal around my building! It’s a great time to let loose a little bit with students. We always celebrate Homecoming Week with themed days including costumes, dress up, and fun activities. Our schedule gets a little wonky as we celebrate each day with assemblies and festivities.

Don’t forget to look ahead in your school calendars to see what fun events are approaching soon and what you need to be ready for them. Does that mean a trip to a local thrift shop or costume store? Or planning a special celebration in your classroom?

Special Dates in October

If you’re looking for reasons to celebrate don’t forget a few awesome days that are coming up in October! My favorites are:

October 14th: National Dessert Day (as if we ever need a reason to celebrate desserts!). Treat your students to special somethings that celebrate this glorious day, or better yet – have students research or share out on desserts that are customary in their families!

October 16th is another favorite of mine – World Food Day. I can think of about ten different amazing ways to celebrate World Food Day in a classroom!

And we certainly can’t forget National Pumpkin Day – no, it’s not on Halloween! It’s actually October 26th and gives us great reason to celebrate one of the reasons why we have such awesome colors this season.

Revisit Your Planner

My most prized possession during the school year is – hands down – my Teacher Planner. (BTW if you’re wondering if the Erin Condren LifePlanner is worth it, the answer is HECK YES.) It seems like I set my Life Clock by it. If I forget my Teacher Planner at home, I will turn the car around and go back for each day. I can’t even say that about my cell phone!

With September being such a whirlwind of excitement, fun lessons, getting to know students, and launching into curriculum, if you are like me, you may have gotten a little off pace with your curriculum. Therefore there’s no better time to revisit the Teacher Planner then during the month of October.

Take a look at the month and what’s yet to come. Are your dates and targets still realistic? If you got off track, is there anywhere that you can make up for lost time in the coming weeks? When are key celebrations and dates that you should be aware of, including seasonal festivities or fall concerts? Is your class taking a field trip that should be accounted for, or any other event that will throw your days off? Now is a great time to revisit (perhaps in pencil!) and set new pacing. Future You will be so grateful you did!

Bring the Outside In

Fall is a wonderful season for so many reasons! The colors are vibrant, hoodies and favorite sweaters suddenly start to appear from closets, there’s the Friday night lights of football games, and what’s not to love about the smell of cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and warm tea replacing iced coffee?! Fall is also a wonderful time in the classroom. No matter what age group you teach, there are amazing activities for bringing more of fall’s colorful outside into your classroom.

For my friends in the primary and elementary school, I can’t get over the number of amazing craft, art, and fine motor skill activities for fall and Halloween. Any search on Pinterest for “Fall Classroom Activities” will yield dozens of adorable education activities. Build your fall library for student, or have a contest to see who can bring in the biggest leaf this month. Here’s a few of my favorite books about fall for elementary students:

To my fellow secondary teachers, think of all the ways that you can bring the incredible events of fall and its beauty into your classroom! Lessons about what’s happening outside abound, with events like the Fall Equinox and all the “super moons” we see. Those deciduous leaves shedding their layers in a rainbow of preparation.

All the animals preparing for winter in the odd and many ways they do. Lessons in geometry, word problems with fall themes, key historical events of the month. There’s a lot of fun to be had, just by shifting the focus slightly to highlight all that is fall.

Get Fall Festive

And let’s not forget about decorating the classroom! With a few simple touches, you can turn any classroom into a fall lover’s paradise! My favorite place to score cute fall items is undoubtedly TJ Maxx. They have great prices on super-durable seasonal decor that can withstand the curiosity of kids who love to explore everything in the classroom! Spruce up your classroom door with a brightly colored wreath or sign.

Update your bulletin boards with cute or clever ideas for fall. Sprinkle elements of orange, yellow, and red throughout your classroom. Create a garland of gorgeous fall colors using student artwork! There’s really no limit to how you can saturate your classroom with fall colors and fall decor. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate this unique time of year. And kids will definitely notice!

Rejuvenate and Connect

In the depths of September’s busy-ness, I know it’s hard to slow down, whether for ten minute or one evening, and socialize. It’s as though the Teacher’s Work Space and mailrooms are Grand Central Station. Teachers walk quickly through the halls, on their way to put out small fires or help a child in need. And understandably, there seems to be so very little energy left at the end of the long and bustling school day. September is exhausting!

October is a perfect time to reconnect with your teacher friends and really get to know your new friends from down the hall! Perhaps a small staff gathering is an order such as a potluck; better yet – theme the potluck around fall favorites and soups. Perhaps now is the time to kick-start that staff book club or schedule that monthly dinner date that you and your teammates usually have.

Teaching is one of those jobs where “there’s always more to do.” Keep your personal bucket full by building friendships right in your building, welcoming those new folks, and building those relationships that will be so vital in the depths of winter. For a job where we interact with hundreds of people each day, teaching can be a lonely business at times. I know from experience – it’s vital that we take care of ourselves by investing in our besties and ourselves.

Here’s to a great October!

I truly hope this year’s school start has been a great one for you! Here’s to a wonderful October with your students.

Do you have any favorite fall traditions in your classroom? Share them in the comments below!

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