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How To Prioritize Your Long Back to School To-Do List

How To Prioritize Your Long Back to School To-Do List

back to school music teachers teacher tips Jun 08, 2021

      Want to quickly spike the heart rate of a music teacher? You might be able to do it with just one of three phrases: MacGAMUT! Norton Anthology of Western Music! Back to School!

      Although many of the texts that are popular in undergraduate studies can certainly get a reaction from most music educators, they don’t make much of an appearance post-degree. It is the thought of going back to school that comes back year after year, no matter how long you have been teaching.  It seems like the list of things to do never gets shorter! However, to help prioritize my list of all the things that need to get done, I actually think back to one of those texts  I read in my undergraduate studies. It was The First Days of School by Harry Wong. A true education staple! In this book, Wong outlines what makes an effective teacher:

  1. exhibit positive expectations for all students,

  2. establish good classroom management techniques, and

  3. design lessons for student mastery.

      Knowing that these 3 things can set up my students for a great first day and lead to many more to follow, my list of items to do gets a little more manageable. I can prioritize my list by the things that really matter and get to the others as the year continues.


 Classroom Environment

      Classroom environment has to be at the top of your list! This is a space where students need to feel safe and creative throughout the entire year. Be careful though! Your checklist of items needed for your classroom space should focus on FUNCTION, not on just fun. 

There are so many valuable resources out there for elementary music teachers, and it can feel overwhelming knowing what to get for your classroom. This list will help you have an idea of where to start!

      How will the students get into your room? Where will they go? What will they need? Are there different spaces for different activities? All of these functions help to determine what the physical space might look like. The physical space of your classroom will also help to determine what things you might need to create to help students understand and use the space.

      For instance, does your break area need a sign or a way to separate from the “ready to work” areas? Do you need to move furniture out of the way to create an open space for movement? Can you make it easy to see where supplies go when students are done using them?

  • Setup physical space

  • Clearly label areas or arrange furniture to easily distinguish between them

  • Organize supplies for easy student access


Classroom Procedures

      Once your physical space is ready, the next focus of your back to school list should revolve around classroom routines. We can’t assume that expected behaviors are common knowledge but should be teaching the routines and procedures of what it looks, sounds and feels like during each part of music class. 

      For instance, students will need to know the expectations and routines around arrival, transitions, lining up, using the restroom, whole group instruction, small group work, instruments, cleanup, etc. Time needs to be allocated in your list to thinking through the routines you will teach to students beginning on the first day of class.

  • Setup your classroom management system

  • Post helpful cues for expected behaviors (ie: voice levels, picture cues, etc.

  • Create a list of routines students need to know so you can include teaching them into your first few weeks of lesson plans (Don’t forget to leave time to practice them!)


Lesson Planning

      Obviously, lesson planning is super important. At the beginning of the year, I find that even as an experienced teacher I work very hard to make my plans as structured, detailed and specific as possible. This is to make sure I am including all the things!

      Plans should provide the structure to your lessons to start to give some predictability to kids about what music will be like. Your plans should also include those classroom procedures and routines you thought through and need to teach to students.

      Lastly, plans at the beginning of the year should include things you can use to get to know your students like name games and plenty of opportunities for sharing or creating. And this is where you cannot leave out fun!

Communicating with Families

      Just like with students, families need to feel welcomed and valued in your classroom community.  How will you communicate with parents? What are the classroom teachers doing to stay in contact? How can you share all of the great things happening in the music room throughout the year? It is so helpful to have these systems in place to start communication early.


Things That Can Wait…



      If you are truly focusing on function, some bulletin boards and other decor could wait until students are in the classroom. I love the idea that the classroom space is a reflection of the students who use it, not just the teacher. 


Seating Charts

      This is one item I took off of my own back to school list a few years ago! I actually find it helpful in getting to know the students before I find a spot for them to sit as they come into the room and during direct instruction.

      This can be difficult the first couple of days if you have trouble remembering names but in the long run it allows you to create a plan that is best for student learning. You can see which students are great friends…and may need a spot further apart for instruction and those who appreciate being closer to you or need proximity to stay focused.



      Although this might be unpopular with your secretary or HR director, usually all of the paperwork required at back to school time has a deadline that extends further than the first day of school.


Items You Can Start On Right Now!


      Sure! Back to school can be that simple. But, if you want to set yourself up for success and a smooth transition for the year, there are a few things that you can do right now or maybe on a rainy day this summer.

  1. Tackle your electronic organization by making sure everything is in an easy to find folder.

  2. Use your curriculum to make a long range plan for each grade level so you can see how it will all fit together within the scope of the school year.

  3. Get a jump start on planning options for your concert repertoire for the dates you have already put on the calendar.

  4. Get yourself organized by grabbing these two back to school freebies from my Teacher’s Pay Teachers Shop:

Back to School Checklist

Google Keep Headers

This article was submitted by Katherine Miller contributing author for Interested in becoming a contributing author? Email resume and writing sample to [email protected]

It is the thought of going back to school that comes back year after year, no matter how long you have been teaching.  It seems like the list of things to do never gets shorter! However, we have you covered! Here’s our list on how you as a teacher can prioritize your back to school list over summer.

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