In early childhood education (ECE) the phrase “back-to-school” can have different meanings. Certain ECE programs are ongoing throughout the year, such as those for infants and toddlers, however, when it comes to preschool, these classrooms experience more of the back-to-school feel, as they have the potential to have new students as the year begins, which typically takes place during August/September.
For early childhood educators, getting ready for back-to-school requires completing certain tasks, including the setup of classrooms, ensuring all materials are in stock and in place, and cleaning up and organizing. Sure, those are basic physical requirements, but what about mental preparation as an educator? This is an important aspect of teaching that should take precedent over other routine tasks, because having a positive mindset as you get ready for the new school year will impact the success of the young children and their development milestones whether they are returning or new children in your classroom. Your mindset also impacts job performance, professional goal achievement, and your relationships with families.
Kimberly Cephas, manager for the Council’s Strategic Alliances department, ECE expert and former infant, toddler, and preschool educator, explains the importance of getting ready for the new school year through a mental, personal, and in-depth preparation, which can assist educators with their goals.
“The time before school begins is a transition for early educators, as they prepare for the upcoming year. Educators need to take the time to reflect and assess themselves, and to gain social and emotional mindfulness of how they will set the classroom environment for the coming year,” she explains. Here are some recommendations Cephas, who is also a doctoral candidate, thinks will help educators be mentally prepared for the new school year:
- Seek self-reflection – It’s important to take time for yourself as an educator before the little ones start attending the classroom. Try meditation to clear your mind or journaling to reflect on your projected goals for the school year. This will help to keep track of where you are and the milestones in between that need to be achieved.
- Stay active in ECE – Part of being an educator requires always keeping up with current trends, news, and all that may be happening in the early childhood field overall. Attend a conference, sign up for newsletters, or become a member of an ECE organization to help you stay connected with your peers and the entire field. Join an ECE group online!
- Ask for support – Don’t hesitate to consult a peer or mentor on certain areas you might have challenges with as a professional, because these too have the potential to be improved through difference approaches you can take. For instance, improving practices when working with challenging behaviors in young children, learning developmentally appropriate practices for technology in the classroom, etc.
- Grow with your classroom – All early educators, especially those who work with infants and toddlers, need to learn how to grow (by learning through professional and personal development) with their children. This means really learning and practicing the principles of child development, including social and emotional development. This approach will prepare teachers themselves and children for each leap as they grow, e.g. getting infants ready for the toddler years, getting toddlers ready for preschool, and so forth. Observe and think about where each child comes from, their development so far, and assess where they need to be this coming year so you can help them get there.
Most educators already know how to get ready for the coming school year when it comes to preparing a classroom and thinking about their students. But as this article shows, it’s important to take a step back and really think about you own goals and how they may align with the children under your care. By achieving a balance – mentally and professionally – educators, like you, will be ready to take on the new school year, every day, week and year!