Whether you are a first year teacher, or someone with years of experience, planning for the first week back to school can be overwhelming. Here is a simple list to help you focus and prioritize! 

Read more to learn about:

  • How to prioritize your time before the start of school.
  • What to think about for classroom layout, routines and procedures.
Use this checklist to plan your classroom set up.

Learning Space

We all know that the learning environment is an important element of teaching and learning. But don’t get caught up in creating an InstaClass. Focus on functionality and simplicity. A powerful way to motivate students is to give them a say in what their classroom looks like, so leave lots of decisions until your students arrive.

Plan and set up an initial layout.

Think about:

    • Whole group instruction.
    • A more intimate area for morning meetings, class discussions.
    • A place for group work.
    • Choices for sitting in groups and sitting alone.
    • Quiet time out.
    • Where to display schedule, calendar, lunch menu, announcements etc.

Save money and simply cover your bulletin boards so that they look clean and inviting. Once the year starts you can work with your students to create bulletin boards that reflect what you are learning, and the classroom community.

Remember: when students feel a sense of ownership, and that their learning environment reflects who they are, they are more likely to take care of it.

Use this checklist to help you plan your classroom library and materials.

Classroom Organization

Plan and set up your classroom materials so that things are easy for you and your students to find and access.

Think about:

  • What materials students need to access regularly? 
  • What materials are shared and/or not used regularly
  • What materials do you not want students to access

Plan and set up your classroom library. Remember, whatever system you use you will need to be able to maintain it throughout the year.

Think about:

  • Grouping based on reading level, genre, alphabetical by author etc.
  • Consider letting your students come up with their own system! It’s amazing what they can come up with on their own.

Plan and set up your teacher space.

Think about:

  • What do you need throughout the day? Your planbook, gradebook, photocopies, computer, to do list, pens & pencils, class list, reward system etc…
  • What do you need for planning? Teacher resources, student resources, copy of standards, calendar, to do list, etc…
  • Personal items like your coat, purse/wallet, extra shoes/clothes, snacks, hygiene products.

Remember: Routines and procedures should be flexible enough to change as your classroom needs change. Plan to revisit routines that are not working and make changes when they are needed. 

Use this checklist to help you plan your classroom norms and expectations.

Classroom Norms and Expectations

Classroom norms and expectations is a general description of what you want the tone of your classroom to be. The norm for science might be that students are excited and working cooperatively, the noise level might be quite high, and even a bit of chaos. But the expectation is that work is getting done and everyone is being safe. Norms and expectations are the guardrails that can guide students when they come across a novel situation and have to make decisions. Keywords for classroom norms and expectations are things like responsible, trying hard, safety, caring, fun, excitement, kindness and taking risks.

Think about:

  • How can you generate excitement and enthusiasm for learning?
  • What kind of norms do you want for your classroom in general, and then for specific activities? 
  • How can you engage your students in developing these norms and expectations so that they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility towards them?
  • How will you celebrate successes as a class to create a positive environment where everyone feels accepted and included? 

Remember: Classroom norms and expectations are a way of being – they should reflect you, the students in the room, and how you all come together. They should develop and change over time as you get to know each other and as students mature. 


Classroom Routines and Procedures

Thoughtful routines and procedures are the structure that support classroom norms and expectations. Students thrive when they know what to do and how to do it, and feel a sense of competence and self-efficacy.

Think about:

  • Getting student attention. 
  • Communicating the norm and expectation before you start an activity.
  • Managing transitions.
  • Strategies to support whole class active participation in learning that promote thoughtful conversation, cooperation and collaboration.
  • Create a routines for:
      • Morning (entrance, seat work, attendance, lunch count). Don’t forget a welcome!
      • Dismissal (clean up, packing bags, leaving the class). Don’t forget the goodbyes!
      • Student jobs.
      • Handing in assignments & missing work.
      • Lunch, bathroom breaks, water bottles, lining up.
      • Catching up after missing school.
      • Early finishers.
  • Organize your emergency contact forms.
  • Create an emergency substitute folder.

Remember: Routines and Procedures aren’t a one and done kind of thing. Don’t expect to show a slide show, make a list and post it and then be done with it. Plan to explicitly discuss, practice, give feedback, reflect and adapt routines and procedures for the first six weeks of school, and then to regularly return to them throughout the year (after extended holidays, between terms, and whenever you think kids need to!).


We know from years of research that when teachers know their content, let their students know what they are supposed to be learning, and why, and provide a clear understanding of what success looks like, there is a high impact on student learning.

Prioritize getting to really know your state and district standards (in Canada your provincial curriculum) and the resources available to you. 

  • Print a copy of each of your standards and start writing on it! Make notes of low hanging fruit that you know you will be able to cover easily. Note standards that you don’t understand yet. Start making connections between subjects. Think about real life applications. You should have a copy of your standards open every time you do lesson planning! 
  • Read your student profiles so you know who needs accommodations from the first day.
  • Think about your assessment practices and set up whatever system you will use. 

Remember: The best strategy for classroom management is a well developed lesson plan! 


Clear communication between home, learner and teacher is a key element of student success. Establish regular routines so that your student’ adults know how and when to look for information from you.

  • Write your student/parent welcome letter.
  • Decide how you will communicate (website, app, email, newsletters are some good options).
  • Consider using a Learning Letter as a regular means of communication between you, your students and their adults. 

Miscellaneous First-Week Prep

  • Prepare student name tags and/or student desk plates.
  • Prepare classroom icebreaker activities (check out Building Relationships with Name Tags).
  • Prepare interest inventories.
  • Prepare your materials.
  • Make all copies for the entire week.
  • Have time-filler activities ready to go.
  • Create lessons and activities to fill each day for the week. 

Almost there!

The night before the first day of school is a weird combination of excitement and fear – for you, your students, and parents! Here are a few last minute things to do:

  • Pick out your clothes and make your lunch. Bring snacks – teaching takes energy!
  • Prepare some easy meals to reheat for the first few weeks of school.
  • Review what you need to be doing by starting at the begining. What will you do? What will the students do? 
  • Give yourself time in the morning for last minute changes.
  • Get a good night’s sleep! You’ve got this!


The First Six Weeks of School by Responsive Classrooms

50 Strategies to Books Cognitive Engagement by Rebecca Stobaugh