Tips for teachers: getting organised for the first week back at school

Uncategorized Jan 09, 2021
If you are a beginner teacher, starting up at a new school, or even if you have been doing this teaching thing for years now, preparing for the 1st week of teaching for the year can seem somewhat daunting.
Need some motivation or guidance to get organised for the new school year? Join our 5 day challenge, starting on the 25th January. Each day I will email you a video, as well as useful tools and templates, that will step you through a key task to help you to start the year smoothly, with minimal stress. 
Your 'to do' list can seem overwhelming, and with so many things often going on at once it's a recipe for a stressed out start to the school year.
Here are my tips for a smooth start to the year:
  1. Make a list - start by writing down everything that you can think of - the key here is just to get it out of your head. If you are feeling overwhelmed the best thing you can do is get it out of your head.
  2. Prioritise - chances are, your list will end up looking pretty long, which can also be very overwhelming. So the next step is to prioritise it by identifying what is essential to do in order to get through the next day. That's all - just focus on making sure that you are prepared for the next day. Once you are on top of that, then you start working through the rest of your list.
  3. Timetables - as soon as you get your timetable, colour code it and make multiple copies to put in your planner, at your desk, in your classroom and at home.
    • If you prefer using electronic calendars/ planners, then spend some time setting this up. Don't forget to add yard duties and any other regular meetings or commitments. I like to set it up in Microsoft Outlook so that it can be synced across devices and any other meetings or events I'm invited to will go straight into the calendar automatically. You can also set up alerts and reminders if you need them. Simply input your timetable for week 1 and then have it automatically repeat every week. No more manually writing out each week in your hard copy planner!  Bonus tip: You can also do your lesson planning in here by double clicking on the class and inserting your lesson notes and links.
  4. Icebreakers/ getting-to-know each other activities:
    • Whether or not you choose to do this is up to you. Consider the year level and the type of students that you have. It's worthwhile doing these with primary school students, and Year 7 & maybe even Year 8 students, but you might get eye rolls from students year 9 and above (also keep in mind that if they are coming to you in period 4, they may have already done 3 icebreaker activities that day and be a bit over it).
    • Some simple ideas for icebreaker activities are:
      • Sit in a circle and each student says their name, and their favourite food/ movie etc. Keep going around the circle and each student needs to remember everyone's name and favourite thing that came before them.
      • Bingo - create bingo cards with different criteria - eg .someone who's birthday is in October, someone with brown hair, etc, and students have to find someone that fits each square.
      • Fill in 'getting-to-know' you worksheets for display in the classroom.
      • Play a 'true or false' quiz with questions about you, the teacher, so that they can get to know you a little more.
      • Play '2 lies and a truth' - each student tells the class 2 lies and 1 truth about themselves, and the class has to guess what is the truth.
    • Or, you could choose to keep it a bit more casual. Set students an easy activity like creating a cover page for the topic that they will be studying that term, and as they are completing it go around the classroom and strike up conversations with them on a one-to-one or one-to-few basis.
  5. Term planners (you can access a free template on the Freebies Vault
    • Term planners are used in addition to your teaching programs. They help to give you a birds eye view of the term for each class/ subject that you teach (enables you to see the entire terms worth of lessons in one A4 page).
    • Put a copy on your wall at your desk, in your classroom, at your home desk and in your planner. You can give a copy to your students too if you wish.
    • Have one term planner per class/ subject, with each one having a different colour so that you can easily distinguish between them.
    • Do one term at a time - complete them before the term starts.
    • Input dates/ weeks according to your state's school terms.
    • Consult your school calendar and put in any events that will take lesson time away from you (eg. athletics carnival, swimming carnival, excursions, camps, pupil free days etc).
    • Using your teaching program, plot out the lessons across the term - give each lesson a title or use a few key words so that you know what you will be covering.
    • Plot out your assessment dates - use the same colour for assessments for every class/ subject that you teach. Try to space assessments out across your classes so that you don't have them all due at the same time (this will save you marking stress).
  6. Desk and classroom organisation
    • At your office desk, have an in-tray for each class/ subject that you teach. Put colour coded labels on them (use the same colour coding that you used on your timetable and term planners). Use these to organise any paperwork for each class (eg. worksheets, forms, homework, assessments, etc). Aim to clear them out at the end of every week.
    • Buy document wallets for each class (try to buy them in accordance with your colour coding system). This is what you will use to keep assessments safe whilst you are marking them and transporting them between home and school. Clearly label them and stick a copy of your class list to the outside of it.
  7. Seating plans
    1. There are pros and cons to seating plans - you decide whether or not you want to use one (check with your school's policies).
    2. If you choose not to have one, you can let them sit where they want on the first day and then write it down, and tell them to stay in those seats until further notice, with the proviso that if certain students are not working well seated together that you may need to change things up. 
    3. Otherwise, you can create a random seating plan and adjust after a few weeks if need be.
  8. Learning names
    • If you are a high school teacher you will need to learn around 150 names at once which can be difficult, but with some effort you should be able to learn them all within a week or so. How can you do this? 
      • Have class lists with photos. Whilst students are doing independent work, practice remembering names, using the class list to prompt you if necessary. Aim to memorise one group/ line of desks every lesson until you can remember them all.
      • When doing class discussion, ask students to say their names before speaking and then use their name when acknowledging their contribution.
      • If you are using a seating plan you can also use that to help you remember, but you do still need to spend some time memorising.
      • Use word/ image associations where relevant. For example - Rachel with the Red hair, Tall Tom, etc.
  9. Set up your marks book
    • As soon as you get your class lists, enter your student names into your marks book, whether this be electronic or on paper (an electronic marks book can be found on the Freebies Vault).
  10. Set up your email groups
    • Another thing to do as soon as you get your class lists is to set up your email groups for each class within Microsoft Outlook or whatever email program you use. This will make it easy to quickly email your students when necessary.
  11. Take it one day at a time
    • If you are feeling overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done, just focus on taking it one day at a time. Don't leave work until you are fully prepared for the next day, and that way you will be able to relax and get a good nights sleep. Once you are feeling more on top of things you can try to increase it to being prepared more like a week in advance.
  12. Brushing up on content knowledge
    • If you are teaching a subject for the first time, you may feel under pressure to increase your content knowledge in that area. Don't worry too much! Make sure you know the basics/ essentials, and then just make sure you are a couple of lessons in front of your students.
    • You might also like to find some podcasts or audiobooks that you can listen to whilst driving to work or at the gym.
    • Don't forget to use your students as a resource - ask them what they already know about the subject, give them research tasks, get them to create presentations on the topic, etc. That way you can learn along with your students.
  13. Make sure home life is under control
    • Lastly, make sure the basics are covered at home. Consider making some freezer meals so that if you don't have time or are too exhausted to cook you have something on hand.
    • Before the first week, decide what you are going to wear each day and make sure it is all cleaned, iron and ready to go. This is one less thing that you will need to worry about during the week.
    • Make sure everything is scheduled in a calendar so all family members know what is happening.
    • Make sure different family/ household members know what jobs they are responsible for and when they need to be done by. 
    • Say no when necessary.
    • Ask for some help if you need it - let other household members know that you will need a bit of extra support during the first week whilst you are getting into the swing of things.


Good luck! I hope that you have found these tips useful. Don't forget that if you would like some extra support in getting organised for the year ahead, join our 5 day challenge, starting on the 25th January! 




Don't miss out

Download your free guide where I have compiled all of my top tips to get organised, save time and increase your impact.