Back-to-School Tips: Setting a Positive Tone From Day One

Back-to-School Tips: Setting a Positive Tone From Day One

The start of a school year is exciting but a big shift from summer's freedom and lack of structure to the measured routines of school. This is a great time to set the tone for your classroom climate as a space for students to thrive and create.

What follows are strategies for teachers and school leaders to create an environment the supports innovation from the first day of school.

No More “All About Me” Bags

Let your students show their personalities by making a photo collage about themselves. A great tool for students is “beFunky.” Students can choose what photos will fit the topic of the driving question and how many photos they want to add to their collage. They can select specific photos of more importance to them by making them larger than others and can even add text.

Designing the Room

Why not ask students for classroom design ideas? A tool call “Classroom Architect” allows your students to create their "ideal classroom." When students visit the website they see a blank background that looks like a blank blueprint with shapes to move around. They use the tools at the top to design and label a layout they think would be most effective. One roadblock to note: the only way to save is to print straight from the site or take a screenshot of their classroom design. One idea you can do with this limitation is have students paste their screenshot into a document and provide a description of how and why they designed their classroom. This option will incorporate writing and creative thinking into their work.

Create a QR Code Wall

There are many free QR code generators. You could have students link QR codes to a Google photo slideshow or other collaborative documents where students write about themselves and share their stories with their peers.

Share Ideas

Mentimeter is a tool that lets you engage and interact with your colleagues in real-time. Users simply votes via mobile phones, tablets, or computers to a question or poll. It is easy to use, enabling you to turn your opinions or ideas into a word cloud or other options. On opening day, consider posing the question “What are the skills you want students to have when they finish the year in your classroom?” Create a word cloud with the answers that can be used as motivation and even posted in classrooms and school hallways. Share your ideas with a larger audience here but going to, typing in the code “84 79 2” and let us know how you might use this tool. We will update the word cloud weekly to share answers.

Share Your Message with Video

Schools can create promotional videos using an engaging animation video website like Powtoon. When it’s finished, push out the new video on social media outlets to get your community ready for a good year! Looking for an example of how it is done? Check out this example: Click Here.

Innovative Communication with Families

It’s often challenging to focus on students’ needs if family comments, questions, or concerns take up the majority of your valuable time. The key to avoiding this situation? Be proactive not reactive! Don’t wait for families to get concerned or confused. Instead, get ahead of the curve and prep communication and information for those stakeholders.

  • Create a Classroom Website: A Teacher Website can be a quick and easy resource for families with Internet access to find announcements, assignments, important resources, phone numbers, emails, curriculum guides, and more. Depending on your access to classroom technology, a website may be able to serve multiple purposes within your classroom.
  • Embed Google Docs into Web Tools: A website can be a wonderful tool, but how can you keep it updated without spending time uploading and deleting old content? Using the embed option to embed a Google Doc into a website. This will not give a visitor access to edit your file. Rather, this option allows you to change a document and automatically update it on your website. This could be used to update families on daily announcements or homework assignments – anything that may change day to day or week by week.
  • Utilize Scheduled Text & Email Updates: Utilizing tools such as Remind 101 or email scheduling software, you can send updates to your families immediately or when it is most convenient for you. In addition, using tools to support your communication allows families to receive updates using an outlet they are comfortable with. Don’t challenge families to step out of their comfort zone to get updates on their own children. Meet families halfway to make the partnership a success!

These are just a few ideas to start the year by getting students excited, involving all stakeholders, and growing your professional learning network. How are you planning to innovate this year? Share your ideas using the hashtag #Jitters2Innovation.


Dr. Matthew X. Joseph (@MatthewXJoseph) is currently Director of Digital Learning and Innovation for Milford Public School, Milford, Ma. Before Milford, he was a building principal for 11 years in Massachusetts. Other professional roles include: classroom teacher, PD specialist, and other district roles supporting technology instruction. Dr. Joseph holds licenses in general education, school administration, and MA superintendent. His master's degree is in SPED and he holds an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Boston College.

Rae Hughart (@RaeHughart) is a Middle Level Math Educator in Illinois and the Director of Training & Development for Progressive Mastery Learning, LLC. Rae created and continues to trained educators on how to partner with local businesses to design dynamic, impactful, effective, and connected content by designing themed units dedicated to community engagement. In 2017, Rae was inducted into The Illinois State University Hall of Fame for her innovative educational impact through the Teach Further Model. Additionally, Rae serves on several Educational Boards including the Association of Illinois Middle Schools (AIMS). Rae holds degrees in Middle Level Education and a masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Illinois State University.