So this may be contrary to what many educators will be writing about in response to this question. I won't be filling up the space with curriculum ideas, work flow design, Canvas tips or even notes for collaborating with colleagues. My 5 Things will focus on Health: mental, physical and emotional. The beginning of the year for me has traditionally been when my family suddenly begins to live with the crazy lady who speaks rather vacantly while she looks at them because she is so distracted by all the "things" she's worried she needs to get done in order to start the year off strong. What I now know, is that stress rolls off on my students and creates an environment of unease and fear, so now I have new approach to ensuring a Healthy School Year.
1) Obviously, I take care of myself first: sleep, exercise and nutrition. I don't tell myself the lie that I can't get it in from Sept-Nov because the 1st quarter is so important. I meditate regularly and breathe--consciously and deeply. I use the great app, Insight Timer that has guided mediations ranging from 1 minute to an hour. In my classroom, I use Aromatherapy Benefits - Mind, Body, Spirit so that the first thing kids notice when they walk in is a pleasant atmosphere--most don't even realize it's because my room smells delicious. I also use soft lighting rather than the bright glare of florescent lights. Ok, so maybe I am talking about design theory a bit, but I create this atmosphere because it keeps me relaxed and open which keeps the kids relaxed and open.
2) I talk a great deal about Mindfulness, Applying Mindfulness to Mundane Classroom Tasks | Edutopia , with my students, and we spend time practicing meta-observation (we observe our thinking). I share with the kids how our brains are like untrained puppies and the problem is the leash is also in the brain. We even do some visualizations of using a leash to grab that wandering brain and bring it back to focus, and then we ask questions, maybe using the Question Formulation Technique, see Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, of ourselves in an attempt to understand when or why our brain wanders when it does. My students brainstorm their own ideas for bringing their brains back to the task. We also generate a discussion about the importance of internal motivation and curiosity, and we explore how we can trigger these feelings for our courses of study. If our students are interested in the course, they'll engage with the material and teach themselves about the topic; if they are completing work because that's what they have to do according to the some external factor, it's highly doubtful learning is occurring.
3) My first weeks of school are all about relationship-building. It's awful, I know, but I am terrible with names. I mean, I am the absolute worst. I am very upfront with the kids about this grave defect of mind; in fact, I often share quite vulnerably with my students. I have 1-minute introductions that we do everyday for long time: sometimes months. The tasks might be: Walk around the room until the music stops/Find a partner/ In 2 minutes you each must share the thing you like most about yourself and it can't be your hair or eyes (nothing physical) or that you are good at sports (no sports/athletic/hobby talk allowed). The kids are always alarmed at having to say something nice about themselves to their partner--it's a very intimate activity that works at building relationship while fostering positive self-concepts. When the time is up, the partner introduces his friend and talks about their favorite characteristic and what it reflects about them. Then the class gives snaps (rather than clapping). As the year progresses and my class becomes more connected, the statements may ask students to identify the scariest moment in their lives/ the worst feeling they've ever had/ their most joyous moment. These personal stories build relationships in my room among the students and me: nothing has benefitted my practice more than having good relationships with my students, New Teacher Academy: Building Relationships | Edutopia . If a student respects and likes you, they will try anything for you; it's a big responsibility.
4) Within the first week of school, I find out which of my students have digital devices at home or smart phones and which do not. I will notify my student's other teachers if they do not have access to a computer/internet/smart phone. I absolutely have the conversation about the computer access in the school library and the local library before and after school, but I am well-aware that it is often these very kids that are getting their younger siblings off to school in the morning and picking them up in the evenings. These kids may be fulfilling a large role at home that precludes them from having the time to run to the library to use their computers. I do what I can to provide the student with a loaner for the year, and barring that, I always let the student know my room is always available for computer use. For my students with smart phones, I verify they have downloaded the Canvas app and the school email in their phone, and they have their Google Calendar set up to keep track of assignments. I directly teach my students how to use the technology to stay ahead of their due dates and remain on track in their classes.
5) And of course, I have my curriculum plan in place. I'm not one to teach the same thing year after year, so my plan, as an English teacher, revolves around the text I choose and the standards I'm focusing on. Having the plan is also a great stress-reducer. I always know where I'm headed, which isn't to say I don't take side trips, or change direction entirely. One of the healthiest teaching practices I've developed is learning to trust my instincts in the classroom, and being willing to follow that instinct and nudge wherever it may go.