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Why the Seasons of School are so Crucial to a Curriculum





By Brian P. GatensMicroscope in Classroom with View of Outside

When my friends and I chat about our respective careers, I notice that while those who work in private industry have seasonal activity cycles (quarterly reports, etc.), educators like me work on a pretty set calendar. And that reminds me why a school’s calendar is so important: It allows us to “reinvent” ourselves every September and to anticipate our students’ needs depending on the academic season.

Over the years, I’ve noticed yearly patterns of schooling, and I suggest that you take them into consideration when you’re developing your lesson units and plans.

Beginning (September/October)

This is when you set the tone for the year and lay the early groundwork for the high academic expectations for your class. Communication with parents is essential, as is a thorough review of your students’ academic folders. I also suggest that you ask your students to complete several informal diagnostic assessments. For the most part, you’ll have a solid eight to nine weeks of instruction during this time.

The Onset of Winter (November/December)

Schools with their heads and hearts in the right place should work hard to strike a balance between their curricular demands and their obligation to give their students memorable childhood experiences. Within November and December, schools have the opportunity to recognize Halloween, Thanksgiving and the holidays of Chanukah/Kwanzaa/Christmas. Expect to have students pulled out of class more often for musical practices, concert preparations and other seasonal events.

You’ll also find that many parents and students (and staff) will have later nights and seem a bit more sluggish during the day. Combine this fact with the onset of cold weather (for those in regions with multiple seasons) and you might find that your students will need extra encouragement to get their schoolwork completed and focus on their tests.

Solid School (January – Mid-April)

I always enjoy the mid-winter months in school. During the first several months of school, staff members have to spend time getting to know their students and then we have the distractions of the holidays. The weeks after the holiday break offer your longest uninterrupted and relatively distraction-free time to work with your students.

This is the time for your high expectations to come to life in your classroom as you work with your students to meet your curricular goals. This is also the time of the year that you’ll need to be in contact with your school’s academic support structure if you find that any students are consistently struggling.

Testing Time (Mid-April – May)

A reality of educational life in America today is that most students at some point during the year will sit for state academic tests, which are being increasingly used to judge the effectiveness of teachers. Ideally, testing would simply reflect a culmination of all of your good work since September and hence would not require a lot of your attention, but in the real world it’s best to spend some time familiarizing your students with the structure and format of these tests.

Administration of these tests will also disrupt the flow and structure of your school, and I strongly recommend taking these challenges into account when you’re planning assessments and activities. It’s important to balance the need to prepare for the tests against the tendency to let preoccupation with tests take over the culture of your classroom.

End of the Year (June)

For the final weeks of school, I suggest making time to create activities and events that will act as culminating work for the year. One of the greatest benefits of teaching (and the one I miss the most) is the ability to build nurturing and positive relationships with children over the course of the year. Use June as an opportunity to celebrate these relationships.

It’s also a nice opportunity to include parents in these end-of-the-year events. It’s also important to use this time of the year to complete your end-of-the-year assessments for your students and to prepare their academic folders for next year’s teachers.

An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, N.J. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.

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Seasonality Seen Outside a Classroom Window  [DOWNLOAD]