This post is the first in a series called New Year, New You. Our goal is to provide you with helpful tips, tools and resources to get your school year started on the right foot. If there is something we can help you with, please let us know in the comments section here.

The list of things to do before school starts can feel long.

There are lessons to plan, behavior systems to put in place, rosters to update. You've got a lot on your plate.

That’s because the time before school starts is crucial to getting off the ground successfully. It’s the time you can take a minute to think about things. You can afford a few minutes to re-do your plan for a system. You can spend your days planning lessons instead of teaching them. You can think through every piece of your classroom before it’s trial and error time.

Because of the great opportunity that presents its self before the year gets underway, here are five things you definitely want to do before that first day.

1. Plan as Many Complete Lessons as Possible
This may seem common sense, but plan as far ahead as you can. Yes, plans change. Yes, when you meet your students, you’ll have to adjust and accommodate their needs, but you’re better off starting from somewhere rather than nowhere.

Like any good lesson planning process, start with the end in mind. Create a long-term plan and work backwards with unit plans, assessments and lesson plans. Just get as many of these done — completely done — as possible. You’ll thank yourself later.

Make sure you are very thorough. Print handouts. Create PowerPoint slides. Write unit and formative assessments. Now is not the time to cut corners thinking you’ll have more time later. You won’t.

2. Create a Plan to Reach Out to Parents in the First Week

I've heard this tip many times, but it's worth repeating. You never get a second chance at a first impression, and it’s doubly important with parents. Put lists of parent or student names on your calendar/schedule for the first week of school and call them all.

This first touch is extremely important. It’s important to give parents the feeling that they know who is teaching their kid. It’s important to let them know where they can contact you. It’s also important to let your kids know that you’re going to call home on a regular basis, whether it’s a positive call or not.

Putting parental contact on a schedule will also really help you keep up this habit once the school year gets underway.

3. Get Everything in Your Classroom Set Up

Before kids come in your room for the first time, you should have everything set up. Libraries should be in place (even if they aren’t “open” yet), centers should be defined and labeled and classroom computer stations should be ready to go. (If your computers don’t work, now is a good time to start figuring out why, rather than when a kid tries to take their first Accelerated Reader quiz.)

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by how much you have to do, so create a plan to get you there. Tackle a little each day (when taking a break from lesson planning, maybe?) so that it doesn’t seem so large.

4. Get Organized
OK, so we all know it’s important to be organized as a teacher. But if you’re like me you definitely had that teacher that lost your essay, or who’s desk was an abyss.

Now is the time to solve this problem. In the next few weeks, your going to get all kinds of paper thrown your way: PD and school calendars, student information, IEPs, permission slips, parent contact information, exit slips, hand outs, etc. Fix this problem now with a good organizational plan.

I suggest checking out The Together Teacher. The book has a tremendous amount of tips and helpful strategies to get you started on the right foot. It includes templates for creating a weekly worksheet, note-taking templates that are action oriented, a template for writing down random thoughts and ideas (instead of peppering your desk with Post-its), and more.

5. Do Whatever You Can to Make it Warm and Comforting

ELA-room Here's an example of one teacher at Rise Academy that painted and added some decorations to make a new learning environment.

This one is a little subjective, but my best advice is to find a way to make your classroom a warm, inviting physical space for kids.

I’m not talking about covering it with posers, bright colors and distractions. Studies show that actually does more harm than good.

I’m talking about decorating. See if you can paint it a different color. See if you can cover walls with affordable, clean wall coverings that make your classroom environment less sterile and more welcoming. go to IKEA and buy a cheap rug. Get (cheap) lamps. Turn your room into a learning paradise.

I’m sure there are many more things you can do to set yourself up for success. What are some things you do before the year gets started? Leave a comment below!

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