THE Back to School List for Teachers: 100+ Steps to a Better Year - Elementary Education

THE Back to School List for Teachers: 100+ Steps to a Better Year

Back-to-school time is one of my favorites, albeit the most stressful time of the year as a teacher. So much of it stems from nostalgia–the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, hallway floors waxed so nicely you can see your reflection in them, and most of all: the first week of school. The excitement, the butterflies, the sleepless nights—does it get any better?! Of course, so many of those feelings overflow into adulthood which is why a solid back to school list for back-to-school is so darn important.

And don’t let the number 100 scare you—many of these tasks are quick wins that you can check off in a few minutes. Make sure to click on the image below to download a printable checklist (it’s editable too, so you can get right to work making it your own).

Graph paper with the title, "100 Steps to Your Best Year Yet" in black text; a back to school list for teachers

Make sure to download the printable PDF of this post so you can have it as a grab-and-go back to school checklist.

Back to School List Items Before the First Day

This section will highlight anything you’ll do solo before school starts. Many of these items can be tackled during the summer (or even during the end of the year as you pack up your classroom and everything is fresh in your mind) so feel free to start this back to school list today if you feel so inclined.

graph paper with the text "44 classroom prep tasks to do"; this is a cover image for a back to school list for teachers before the first day of school

Back to School To-Do List Item #1: Behind-the-Scenes Classroom Prep

These back to school list items are all about the teacher-facing side of your classroom. Set up these now to save you a year of stress. Some things are meant to be played by ear, but classroom systems and organization are not those things.

Here is a list of things to consider when preparing for the upcoming school year:

  • Filing/managing paper flow
  • Where your personal belongings will go
  • Binders you need/binders to make
  • How will you store math manipulatives
  • Organizing the classroom library (Jillian Starr has a great article on this)
  • Prepare for back to school/curriculum night (if you are a visual person, this bubble format is my go-to)
  • Prepare for an open house (get boxes ready to collect supplies + consider taking photos of the students!)

I like to get laundry baskets and copy paper boxes and label them with 8.5×11 labels. I have a set with words AND pictures on them for non-readers and non-English speakers who are attending the open house.

a collection of thumbnail images depicting school supplies
This collection of labels is included (for free) with the (free) checklist at the end of this post!
  • Prepare student user info + passwords for technology
  • Prepare sub plans
  • Mark important dates on the calendar now
  • Managing supplies (Community or individual, access to extras like glue sticks, pencils, etc.)
  • Access any necessary student files (IEPs, 504 plans, medical records, etc.)
  • Decide how stations and small group instruction will take place
  • Copy all important papers that need to be sent home the first week
  • Prep a basic first aid kit to keep in the classroom (nurse visits can be helpful but also super disruptive so at least having band-aids on hand is helpful!)
  • Figure out and prep the birthday system
  • Purchase a planner (this is a rabbit hole but I am partial to Blue Sky ($) and Happy Planner ($$$) brands)
  • System for absent students
  • Labeling classroom supplies
  • Make a plan for assessments

Back to School To-Do List Item #2: Communication Prep

These back to school list items will ensure a smooth year of teacher-guardian correspondence.

  • Take-home folders (my friend Ashley has an amazing article about these)
  • Weekly or monthly newsletter
  • Your availability (if you prefer the phone to email, etc.) and what hours you’ll set for yourself
  • Sharing technology info with parents: how to access it at home, expectations for accessing at home, and student user names + passwords
  • Class Dojo (how will parents sign up + what do they need to know about it?)
  • Homework (how will you share your homework or UnHomework plans with families?)
  • Monthly or weekly calendar (how will you communicate important dates and events?)

Back to School To-Do List Item #3: Physical Space + Classroom Set-Up

Below you’ll see a list of items to consider, plan, and/or arrange prior to student arrival on the first day of school. When physical space is concerned, I am a huge proponent of two things: starting the year with a blank slate and making sure my room is a safe space for all.

Blank slate theory: start it empty. Blank walls, empty boards, the bare bones. Students can fill those spaces and create a room that belongs to everyone.

Safe space: I believe in an accessible room for all, and a room where students of all identities feel welcome. To do this in your classroom, give any decor, posters, displays the 1,2,3 check:

  1. If people are depicted, is there a variety of skin colors, abilities, and representation shown?
  2. Is student-facing text large enough and able to be read from all student seats?
  3. Have you incorporated simple, calming colors when possible?

Here’s a back to school list of physical classroom setup to-dos:

  • Seating arrangement
  • Word wall
  • Sound wall
  • Bulletin boards (School-mandated displays? Boards for literacy, student work, calendar, math stations, etc.)
  • Teacher workspace (traditional teacher desk, small group table, etc.)
  • I’m still a big fan of Spaces and Places–check it out!
  • What supplies will students bring and what will you or the school provide?
  • Labeling with magic numbers
  • Decorating scheme (if any)
  • Organize your classroom library
  • Organize the shared supplies
  • Organize the math manipulatives
  • Organize the writing center
  • Set up common areas, such as the rug for morning meeting
  • Purge old materials
  • Where to display learning objectives
  • Calendar + morning meeting area

Back to School List Items With Students

Back to School To-Do List Item #4: Daily Schedule

Explain, model, discuss and practice the below times of day with your students during the first week of school.

back to school list cover image for this blog section: graph paper with the black text "80 things to do with your students in the first week of school"
  • Arriving: entering the room + unpacking
  • Making a lunch choice
  • Turning in things from home
  • Morning work + expectations [what to do when finished]
  • Morning meeting
  • Calendar
  • Math block
  • Literacy block
  • Small group: when it’s okay to interrupt
  • Lining up for lunch [what to bring]
  • Going to lunch
  • Lunch behavior expectations
  • Recess expectations
  • When recess is over: lining up
  • Coming back after recess
  • Lining up to leave the classroom [general]
  • Walking in the hallway
  • Sitting on the carpet
  • Writing workshop expectations
  • Packing up to go home
  • Dismissal routine
  • Afternoon meeting
  • How you go home every day
  • Reviewing sample daily schedule
  • Specials schedule
  • Expectations for specials
  • Re-entering the classroom (general)

Back to School List Item #5: Routines + Procedures

Explain, model, discuss and practice the below routines with your students during the first week of school.

  • Nurse visits
  • Asking a peer for help
  • What is an emergency? (Bleeding, throwing up, etc.)
  • Tying your shoe
  • Indoor recess expectations
  • Raising a hand to ask a question
  • Getting a drink
  • Using the bathroom
  • Getting a tissue
  • Getting a band-aid
  • When I’m done
  • Taking attendance
  • Getting a new pencil
  • Sharpening your pencil
  • Unfinished work
  • Accessing technology (when and how)
  • Treating our technology responsibly
  • Passwords
  • Using supplies (glue, scissors, etc.)
  • Throwing away trash
  • Visitors to the classroom
  • Turning in your work
  • Going to Art, Music, P.E., Library, etc.

Back to School To-Do List Item #6: Systems, Structures, + Contingency Plans

Explain, model, discuss and practice the below expectations with your students during the first week of school.

  • Birthdays
  • Classroom jobs
  • Student numbers
  • Attention-grabbing signals
  • Homework
  • Classroom Lost + Found
  • School Lost + Found
  • Brain breaks
  • Fire drill
  • Safety/lockdown drill
  • Earthquake drill
  • Tornado drill

Back to School List Item #7: Rules + Expectations

Explain, model, discuss and practice the below rules with your students during the first week of school.

  • Physical boundaries
  • Accessing classroom library
  • How we treat our books
  • Managing our book boxes
  • Maintaining desks + personal space
  • General behavior expectations: do’s and don’ts
  • Incentives
  • Consequences
  • Class Dojo
  • Bringing in belongings from home
  • How we treat each other
  • What to do when there is a substitute teacher
  • Noise levels
  • Mindset expectations
  • Late arrivals
  • Coming back after being absent
  • Participating in classroom discussions
  • Positive and negative language
  • How to talk to our peers

Back to School To-Do List Item #8: Must-Dos on First Day

Below you will find the list of items you must do on the first day. You know what you need before you whip out the fancy craftivities? Classroom management skills to keep that chaos under control. Forget the fancy crafts and photo booths (for now)—these are the first orders of business. Then you can do all the fun stuff, basking in the peace of knowing you have the basics nailed down to (somewhat) manage your classroom during the first week. Because let’s be honest–the first week is rough whether you are 2 or 22 years in.

  • How you get to school
  • How you get home
  • Magic numbers
  • Getting to know each other
  • Learning areas of the classroom
  • Entering the classroom: backpack + coat storage
  • Attention-getters
  • Basic schedule walk-through
  • Restroom expectations
  • Lunch expectations
  • Playground + recess expectations
  • Keep all students alive 😉

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You are going to have an incredible year.

Make sure to download the printable PDF of this post so you can have it as a grab-and-go back to school checklist.

I also have compiled all of the above (and more) into digital slides you can use for the first 2 weeks of school. Check it out: Back to School Survival Kit.

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