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Off to a Good Start


Get Off to a Good Start with this slim volume that's big on practical tips for ensuring a successful year.

Off To A Good Start Book Cover ImageOff to a Good Start: Launching the School Year, a collection of the most frequently requested articles from Responsive Classroom: A Newsletter for Teachers, can be read in less than an hour. But the ideas and suggestions in this clear, concise, and easy-to-read volume published by the Northeast Foundation for Children will carry you and your students through the entire school year.

Based on the Responsive Classroom philosophy, an approach that integrates academic and social skills, the book can be used by any teacher eager to provide students with a safe and productive learning environment.

The introduction to Off to a Good Start, chock full of down-to-earth advice, is only the beginning. The nine articles that follow deal with specifics, providing explicit strategies and activities any teacher can use to build a strong base for teaching and learning.

Chapter 1, "Be Nice!," and Chapter 2, "Rules Grow from Our Hopes and Dreams," take the teacher step-by-step through the process of establishing classroom rules that students can, and will, respect. Readers will discover how younger students can use charts to establish goals and priorities and how older students can incorporate classroom rules into their math or social studies curricula.

Chapter 3, "Activities for Building Community," and Chapter 4, "In Your Classroom," provide suggestions for classroom activities designed to create a sense of community and class identity. These include ideas for art activities, creative and autobiographical writing, classroom games, bulletin boards, and special projects and events. Chapter 5, "Let's Do Lunch," details lunchtime structures and events designed to extend the sense of community and awareness of mutual responsibility beyond the classroom.

Chapter 6, "Guided Discovery," includes specific strategies for introducing classroom areas and materials, while explaining how those strategies can be use to motivate, provide information and ideas, teach techniques and skills, teach routines and procedures, and reinforce cooperative behavior.

Chapter 7, "The Responsive Classroom Environment," provides ideas for bulletin boards and other classroom displays, and explains how those displays can contribute to the classroom atmosphere, increase student motivation, and help ensure student success.

Finally, Chapter 8, "Reaching Out to Parents," and Chapter 9, "When Parents Visit the Classroom," include practical suggestions for improving home-school communication, including ideas on how to involve parents in setting classroom goals, supporting classroom rules, and encouraging academic achievement. These articles include sample parent letters and explicit teacher behaviors and techniques that can be used or adapted to establish and maintain parental support.


Off to a Good Start begins with a brief introduction that presents six priorities for teachers to consider as they establish classroom attitudes and atmosphere. They are:

  • Build a foundation of trust and warmth.
  • Give children opportunities to practice expected behaviors.
  • Create an environment in which it is safe to take risks and make mistakes.
  • Nurture each child's sense of belonging to a group.
  • Nurture each child's sense of independence and responsibility.
  • Excite and motivate children to the potentials of classroom learning.

The introduction goes on to suggest specific strategies for introducing classroom routines and procedures in a way that's designed to reflect those priorities. Readers are led through the strategies in a natural progression that takes them week-by-week through the first 6 weeks of the academic year.

  • In the first week, the teacher is encouraged to build a sense of group, to establish rules, and to begin the process of Guided Discovery, in which students are gradually introduced to classroom areas and materials. During this time, a morning routine is established and students are provided with multiple opportunities to get to know one another while participating in non-competitive group activities.
  • During Week 2, rules are posted and procedures for various activities are introduced.
  • As students begin to work with the teacher in small groups during Week 3, they must also learn how to productively manage independent work time.
  • Gradually, through weeks 4, 5, and 6, more activities are introduced and a workable balance is established between teacher-directed and child-initiated activities, as students learn to make independent choices within the framework of a managed environment.

The introduction calls the collection of articles in Off to a Good Start a "framework for creating an environment in which children can be academically and socially successful." And it encourages teachers to use that framework to create a classroom environment that will work for them and their students. Even if all the ideas and activities are not new to readers, the articles will surely energize and inspire you as you prepare to tackle the year ahead. Whether you're a beginning teacher anxious to excel in your first classroom assignment or a veteran educator eager to start the new academic year on a positive note, this book is sure to get you Off to a Good Start.

Off to a Good Start: Launching the School Year is available from the Northeast Foundation for Children, 71 Montague City Road, Greenfield, MA, 01301. To order, call 1-800-360-6332 or fax to 1-413-772-2097. Individual copies are priced at $7.50, plus shipping and handling. Quantity discounts are available.

The Northeast Foundation for Children (NEFC) is a non-profit organization founded in 1981 by six public school teachers "who envisioned school environments where children felt safe and cared for and where knowledge of the ways children learn and develop informed teaching practices." The organization is based on the philosophy that social skills and academic learning are inextricably linked. The group's "Responsive Classroom" philosophy includes six components -- Classroom Organization, Morning Meeting, Rules and Logical Consequences, Academic Choice Time, Guided Discovery, and Assessment and Reporting -- intended to integrate academic and social skills into everyday school life. NEFC materials and programs emphasize the necessity for teaching cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. The organization's branches include a K-8 lab school, consulting teachers who conduct workshops and establish long-term collaborations with educators, and a publishing division that produces educational resources.

For more information about the NEFC or the Responsive Classroom, call 1-800-360-6332. Although the organization doesn't yet have a Web site, we're told they're "working on it." So watch for it!

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
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