170 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting the New School Year

Prior to starting my first year teaching, I asked a few veteran teachers for their most important pieces of advice. Interestingly enough, there seemed to be a recurring theme. Routines and procedures are everything.

The key to a successful and well-functioning classroom revolves around management.Management has everything to do with effectively implementing and consistently enforcing certain routines and procedures. However, before the start of the school year, particularly if you are about to enter your first year teaching, trying to figure out what exactly you need to teach in relation to these procedures can seem daunting.

I teamed up with a phenomenal teacher whom I immensely respect, DeDe Orlando Olthoff, to compile this list of questions. These questions can help you consider the hows, wheres, whens, whys, and “what ifs” within your classroom. The goal of the questions is not to offer advice, but merely to help you think through how you will create a smoothly running, positive learning atmosphere for your kiddos. You may not be able to answer all of these questions just yet, and of course, once you meet and get to know your students, your answers to several of these questions will likely change. Some of these questions may also be team-based, in which it would be important to confer with your team first before making concrete choices.

Thus, perhaps due to my adeptness at overanalysis, I present you with 170 questions to ask yourself before your kiddos enter your classroom on day one of the school year.

Behavior Management

  • How and how often will you positively praise students for outstanding behavior?
  • How will you gain students’ attention?
  • Will you have a behavior management system in place?
  • How will you communicate to students that their behavior does not meet your expectations?
  • What consequences will be in place if students engage in inappropriate behavior?
  • Will you have classroom rules? If so, what will they be?
  • Will you display classroom rules/expectations prior to students’ arrival, or will you create these rules together, as a class?
  • How will you communicate rules to non-readers?
  • How will all students feel accountable and responsible for these rules?
  • What times of day might need different rules than your usual classroom norms?
  • If using a system where you provide students with several reminders prior to a consequence, how will you keep track of who has received reminders?
  • Will you have extrinsic rewards/incentives in place (e.g., prize boxes, dollars that students collect, etc.)  When will students receive rewards?
  • How will you adapt when your behavior management system isn’t effective with a particular student?
  • Which behaviors can be ignored, and which need immediate attention?
  • Who is responsible for managing students’ behavior? (The teacher?  Co-teachers? Support staff? Other students?)
  • Who will create your classroom rules?  The school system? The school? You? Your students?
  • Are your classroom rules fixed, or will they be added to or adapted throughout the year?
  • How will students be reminded of the classroom rules, and how frequently will this occur?
  • How will you insure consistency in your behavior management?
  • How will you respond to a parent, staff member, or student that disagrees with one of your classroom rules or the way that you manage behavior?
  • How will you communicate with families regarding their child’s behavior?
  • How will you communicate behavioral expectations to a new student who enters part way through the year?
  • What information will be communicated with families?  Are you only contacting families when their child is in trouble, or are you also communicating positive behavior with families?
  • Are you or your students tracking trends in behavior?  If so, how?
  • How will you communicate your behavioral expectations to substitutes and other adults within your classroom?

Classroom Routines

  • When will students sharpen their pencils?  How will they communicate this need?
  • When will students use the restroom? How will they communicate this need?
  • When will students get a drink of water? How will they communicate this need?
  • Will you have classroom jobs?  If so, how often will you change them? Will you designate jobs, or will students apply for them?
  • How will students sign up for lunch? Breakfast?
  • Where will students turn in their completed work?
  • What will you do with completed work?
  • Does all completed work need to be turned in?
  • What will happen if a student does not finish an assignment?  When will they have time to finish it? Where will they store it?  Who is accountable for keeping track of the unfinished assignment?
  • How will students line up?  Will you have an assigned line order, or will they be free to choose their own spots?
  • How will you teach students how to line up?  What needs to be considered when forming a line?
  • When will you teach classroom routines?  On the first day of school? During the first week?  What will students do before a routine is taught? Which routines need explicit instruction?  Which routines need just a reminder?
  • How will you teach routines?  Will you (or other students) model a desired behavior?  Will you model the undesired behavior, too? Will you create a visual like a picture or text reminder of what the routine looks like?
  • Will you celebrate students’ birthdays?  How? What is the school’s policy on food?  What is your policy on food? What will you say when a parent asks if they can do [x-y-z] for their child’s birthday?
  • How will you teach routines to students who enter your classroom part way through the year?
  • What holidays do the students in your class celebrate? Will you include all of them on the calendar?  Will you recognize or celebrate each of them? How will you know which holidays they celebrate?

Planning

  • How will you plan for the school year?
  • Will you complete a curriculum map?
  • Do you have a long range plan?  How do you know when to teach each topic/unit?
  • Will you plan digitally, in print, or both?
  • What should be included in your planbook?
  • Will you prepare materials in advance for the upcoming school week?
  • When will you set aside time to prepare for each day?
  • When will you set aside time to wrap up from each day?

Assessment

  • How will you monitor, continually assess, and track your students’ reading levels throughout the year?
  • How will you group your students for reading/math groups?
  • How will you take notes within reading group? Math group?
  • How frequently will you assess your students’ understandings of a particular concept?
  • How will you make assessments accessible to all learners?
  • How will you record assessment results?
  • How many grades are you required to/do you plan on taking each week?
  • How will you provide feedback to students on their assessments?
  • What will assessments look like within your classroom?  Will you utilize different forms of expression within your assessments?  Will your assessments be informal, formal, or both?
  • How will you communicate students’ assessment results to families?  How often?

Classroom Library

  • How will you organize your classroom library?  By levels? By genre? Both?
  • When can students exchange books?
  • Where will students store their books?  Will you use book bins? Plastic bags? Etc.
  • How many books can students take at a time?
  • How often can students exchange books?  How do they exchange books? How will you teach this?
  • How will you monitor that students are returning books in a timely fashion so that all students have access to these texts?
  • Can students take books home?  
  • How will you ensure that students are reading a “Good Fit” book?
  • How will you teach students to choose a good fit book independently?
  • How will you keep your library up-to-date and culturally diverse?
  • Where can you find books that mirror your students’ race and/or the holidays that they celebrate?
  • What is the procedure for a lost, ripped, or broken book?
  • What are students expected to do with the books in their book box/bag?  What are the different ways that students can engage with a book?

Supplies Organization

  • Will you use communal supplies, individual supplies, or a mixture of both?  How will you communicate your supply system to students? Parents?
  • Where will students store their supplies?
  • How will you have your students organize their supplies at the beginning of the year?
  • Are there some supplies that students are not allowed to use unless given directions to do so?
  • If using a system of individual supplies, can students share their supplies with other students? When will they be allowed to do so?
  • Will you use folders, composition notebooks, or both?
  • Where will you keep supplies that students only need from time-to-time?
  • What will you do in the event of a student who does not bring supplies to school?
  • Are there any supplies that will not be allowed within your classroom?  How will you communicate this to parents?
  • How will you ensure that you avoid the problem “of disappearing supplies” (where you consistently replenish pencils, glue sticks, etc.)

Physical Classroom Structure

  • Will you be using tables or desks?
  • Will you offer flexible seating?  (If so, see Flexible Seating category).
  • How will you arrange your tables/desks?  What message will this convey to students?
  • If using tables, where will students place their supplies? How will they know where to sit?
  • Will you be using classic name tags?  How will you secure them? (Tape, velcro, etc?) If not, what will be your alternative?
  • Where will you be teaching the majority of the time? (e.g., front of the room, back of the room, on the carpet)?
  • In which instances might you need to change your classroom structure?  How will you communicate new expectations to students?
  • Do students choose their seats?  Do you?
  • Will you change student seating arrangements?  If so, how frequently?
  • What will you place on your bulletin boards?  Will these be changed throughout the year? Will they be interactive?  
  • Do you have white boards? Chalk boards? How will you arrange your classroom furniture to best support your use of these during instructional times?

Flexible Seating

  • Which forms of flexible seating will you offer?
  • How frequently will students utilize flexible seating?
  • How will you establish flexible seating expectations?
  • What will happen if students inappropriately utilize flexible seating?
  • How will you keep track of students’ flexible seating usage?
  • What will happen  if several students desire the same kind of flexible seating?
  • How will you explain flexible seating to parents? Administration? Substitutes?
  • How will you “roll” out flexible seating to your students?
  • What will you do if flexible seating is successful for most students, but not all?

Relationship Building

  • How will you form positive relationships with your students?
  • Will you conduct a morning meeting?
  • How will you learn about your students’ interests? Will you give students an interest survey at the beginning of the year?
  • How will you show students that you care about their success?
  • Will you attend students’ events outside of school that relate to their after-school activities? How will you know when these events are occuring?
  • How will you foster relationships between your students?
  • How will you teach your students to manage peer conflict?

Social Emotional Competencies

  • What will you do if a student becomes upset mid-instruction?
  • Will you have a “Calming Corner” in your classroom?  (If so, see Calming Corner subcategory)
  • Which values/character traits do you wish to emphasize in your classroom? (e.g., perseverance, kindness, etc.)  How will you do this?
  • How will you promote kindness within your classroom?
  • Which read-alouds can you utilize to teach social-emotional competencies?
  • How can you teach students to continue working on tasks that are challenging?

Calming Corner

  • What will be in your Calming Corner? (e.g., sensory objects, mirror, pens and pencils, etc.)
  • Do students have to ask for permission to go to the corner, or can they do so independently?
  • How long can a student stay at the Calming Corner? How will this be monitored?
  • How will you explain the role of a Calming Corner to your students?

Celebrating Diversity

  • How will you teach students to embrace each other’s differences? (physically, culturally, etc.)
  • Will you teach in an inclusion setting?  If so, how will you make sure these students’ needs are met?
  • Will students have an opportunity to share about their culture? What will this look like?

Differentiation

  • How will you differentiate planning, instruction, and assessment?
  • When will your student groupings be homogenous?  When will they be heterogeneous?
  • How will you differentiate your instruction for a student who is just beginning to learn English?
  • How will you differentiate your instruction for a student with an IEP?
  • How will you differentiate your instruction for a student with a 504?
  • What are accommodations/modification you can make for students that do not require special permission?

Parent Communication

  • How will you communicate with parents?
  • How frequently will you communicate with parents?
  • Will you use e-mail? Phone calls? Both?
  • Will you have a class website?
  • Will you send home a class newsletter?
  • How will you establish positive relationships with parents?
  • Will you allow for parent volunteers?  Will they do administrative tasks (e.g., cutting, laminating, assembling centers) or work with students?
  • Will you host events where parents are invited to come?  What types of event will this be?

Growth Mindset

  • How will you teach students that it is okay to make mistakes?
  • How will you handle student frustration when a task is deemed too challenging?
  • Are there read-alouds that you can use to promote this idea?
  • How will you fit time in to teach this and also meet the needs of the curriculum?

Technology

  • Will you use technology within the classroom?  If so, what kind?
  • If so, are you 1:1, or do you have a few forms of technology that students will be expected to share?
  • How will you monitor students’ technology usage to make sure they are using it appropriately?
  • How will you communicate appropriate technology expectations? What will happen if a student uses technology inappropriately?
  • Are there any particular applications that you know you would like students to utilize consistently?

Student Engagement

  • Will you use “brain breaks” within your classroom?
  • How frequently will you use brain breaks, and how long will they last?
  • Will you develop your own brain breaks or use an online platform (e.g., Go Noodle)?
  • How will you maintain student engagement throughout the course of your lessons?
  • What types of lessons are you considering (e.g., direct instruction, project-based, inquiry, concept attainment, etc.?)
  • When will it be appropriate to deviate from your day-to-day routines to provide students with alternate engaging learning opportunities?
  • What will you do if you have an idea for a lesson that deviates from the curriculum?  How will you communicate this idea to your team members? Administration?

Classroom Decor

  • What will you display throughout your room (e.g., on bulletin boards, etc.?)
  • Will you display student work?  If so, how will you determine which work is displayed?  Will students have a choice?
  • Are there certain things you are required to display? Where will they be located?

Team Relations

  • When will you meet with your team?
  • How will you ensure that you are an active and contributing member of your team?
  • What will you do if you disagree with a teammate?  How will you communicate your ideas respectfully?

Adults in the Classroom

  • How will you communicate other adults’ roles to your students? To the adults?
  • Will these adults play a role in behavior management?
  • Are these adults supposed to work one-on-one with one particular student or work with all of your students?
  • How will you communicate to an adult if there is a problem that needs to be discussed?

Special Services Staff

  • When and how will you plan with other staff members to meet the individualized needs of your students?
  • Will these staff members come into your classroom or pull students out of your classroom?  How will this affect your planning?

Work-Life Balance

  • How will you maintain a work-life balance?
  • How much time before and after school are you willing to devote to school-related work?
  • Will you work on the weekends? If so, for how long?
  • Will you set a time to leave school each day?
  • How will you ensure that you take care of yourself while also taking care of your students?

Final Takeaway:

  • When your students leave your class and move on to the following grade level, what is the one thing you know with certainty you want them to remember?

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