Tips for Changing Grade Levels

Ahh… summer, where Principals think it’s funny to stress out teachers with changing grade levels! Actually, I don’t think they think it’s funny… but it is definitely stressful to change grade levels, even if you’ve requested the change. Over the last 12 years in the classroom I’ve taught 2nd, 3rd, 2nd again, 5th, kindergarten, and 2nd again! Needless to say… I’ve had to learn a thing or two about changing grade levels. Today, I’m sharing some of the best tips for changing grade levels that I’ve learned along this Applicious Teacher journey!

1. Dig into the standards-up, down, and sideways

I know it’s not fun or glamorous, like setting up a classroom is… but this is hands down the MOST important and helpful thing you can do when starting a new grade level.

Take a few days over the summer and pour over those standards! Make a few notes in a notebook about the verbs or key vocabulary used. Main idea may still be taught in your new grade level, but maybe it’s called something else.

Plus looking over the standards helps you understand the overall goal for your students this upcoming school year. Most standards are written as the “end goal” for the year, so if you know where you’re going (standard’s wise) it will be easier to get there!

When I switched from 5th grade to Kindergarten, I took the weekend before I started to review the Kinder standards. I was so relieved to see that many of the standards started with “with help and support”. It made me realize that there was a lot that kinders were asked to do, but not much was expected to be mastered in kinder.

Yes… even sideways

Be sure to look at the standards from the previous grade level and the next grade level. You’ll be surprised as to what students were asked to do in the previous grade. This is especially true for reading standards! Plus, it will give you a strong understanding of what your new group of cuties should be able to do coming in, and if they can’t, it’s easy to back up a few steps because… well, you know!

This was especially helpful when I moved up to 3rd grade. I knew the 2nd grade standards like the back of my hand, so I knew where most of my students were coming from (standards wise) To help paint a clearer picture, in addition to reviewing the 3rd grade standards, I also glanced over the 4th grade standards to see what they needed to be prepared to do the following year. It was such an eye-opener in helping me design and plan my lessons.

2. Join a FB Group

Now that you’re easing into the idea of changing grade levels, it’s time to surround yourself with teachers who are also teaching that same grade!

This can be done in many different ways, but one of the easiest is through Facebook. Facebook has tons of groups geared toward your new grade level. Do a quick search and join a few!

Here at The Applicious Teacher, we even have our own little second grade group: 2nd is the Best! This group is geared toward second grade teachers looking to share ideas on teaching the best grade around! If you’re heading into 2nd grade, I highly suggest you join our little group!


3. Follow grade-specific teachers on IG/FB

In the same vein as surrounding yourself with teachers, start looking for grade level specific teachers to follow on Instagram and Facebook. You can do this easily by searching hashtags on IG, or asking for recommendations for people to follow in your new Facebook group!

Join the adventures on Instagram! @appliciousteacher

Also, shameless plug: If you’re looking to follow a 2nd/3rd-grade specific teacher on IG, you can click here to follow me there!

4. Team up with your teammates

I get it, summer time is the time to relax, but… if you’re able reach out to your new teammates! Even a quick email introducing yourself can help you feel a bit more prepared.

Even better? If you get a chance to sit down with your team before the following school year! I still remember one year, sitting with my second grade team over the summer and working on long term plans. It was so helpful the following school year!

5. Be ready for a steep learning curve

So, not to scare you or anything, but teaching a new grade level can be difficult. Even if it is only one step up or down from the grade level you taught previously.

New standards, new students, new classroom, new team… it can be a lot of “new” all at once. One thing that kept me afloat all those times in a new grade level? Remembering that good teaching is good teaching, is good teaching. Best practices are good at any grade level, so be consistent and lean into those teaching best practices you know have worked for you in the past!

6.Have a strong classroom management plan

Strong classroom management is the key to a successful year no matter what grade level you teach! So, use this time to plan a strong foundation. Reach out to your team to see if what plan/system they use. Some schools require grade levels to use the same management system in each classroom, as part of their PBIS, so be prepared.

In the end, remember that a good solid plan is a foundation for good teaching.

A chatty class is univeral, so be sure to check out this post to get ideas for dealing with a chatty class!

7. Extend yourself some grace

This one will be the hardest one of all…especially if you’ve taught your previous grade level for more than a few years and consider yourself a seasoned teacher.

Changing grade levels isn’t easy, and extending yourself some learning grace will go a long way over the course of the year. You will make mistakes, so be sure to take the time and reflect on what’s working, what’s not, and know that this is all part of the journey! No one will be “perfect” and you shouldn’t expect that from yourself no matter how many years of experience you have.

The year I taught Kindergarten, I struggled with this one so much! I knew there was better teaching in me, but I just didn’t know how to make that teaching happen in my kinder classroom. I just couldn’t seem to blend my academic-focused teaching style with the developmentally appropriate teaching style you need in kindergarten. My expectations of my students were too high, and I felt like I was failing every day because the students were “perfect” and I wasn’t “perfect”. Finally, after a massive breakdown on IG stories over cleaning up bins of toys one afternoon, I realized that I needed to extend myself some grace. I was teaching at a new school, in a new district, on a new team, and a grade level I hadn’t taught in 12 years. I wasn’t ever going to be perfect, and I needed to stop sabotaging myself and my students with this notion!

8. Plan your work and work your plan- lesson plan that is!

So here’s the secret to helping yourself succeed in your new grade level: lesson plans!

I know it sounds simple, but hear me out on this one! Having a strong lesson plan in place will help you. Your goal is the teach students the standards and detailed lesson plans will help you with that. Keep in mind, lesson plans are also the perfect place to add in management reminders (like how you plan to have your students unpack and pack up, or distribute graded work)

Planning these details will help you keep yourself accountable for your plans and make you consistent with your classroom procedures. Plus, detailed lesson plans will allow you to throughly plan out lessons so you can teach exactly how you need to in your new grade level. (Also, keep in mind, you won’t need to be super detailed for too long, just until you get the swing of things! Honestly, in Kinder… I had detailed lesson plans all year because, well… Kinder!

9. Don’t be afraid to take it back to the basics!

So… your lesson is falling flat, your students are a mess, and maybe you’ve forgotten the objective of the lesson you were planning on teaching at this very moment… DO NOT PANIC!

At any point, it is ok to take it back to the basics. Reset your lesson, have students return to their seats with their heads down if needed. There is no shame in doing a hard restart when things just aren’t shaking out how you thought they would.

This “basics” theory also works for lesson structures and plans, and even classroom procedures. You’re probably used to doing a ton of highly complex lessons with built-in differentiation, hands-on practice, and maybe even a classroom transformation or two… but the truth is when you’re starting fresh in a new grade level, sometimes simpler is better (for the time being!) It’s ok to keep lessons a bit “basic” at first. A simplified lesson will help you focus on teaching your new students and grade-level standards effectively. Then, you can move on to the fun stuff!

10. Reflect often

I feel like this word is used a lot in this post, but when you’re new to a grade level, you really can’t do this enough! REFLECT on how things are going!

Didn’t like how your day went? Spend a few minutes before leaving for the day to write out what you didn’t like and some changes you’d like to make. Maybe your end of the day dismissal was out of control (let’s be honest, dismissal in a Kinder classsroom is ALOT different then a 5th grade room!)

So anytime you find something just not working in your new classroom, take time to reflect!

Ask yourself these key questions:

  • What isn’t working?
  • Why isn’t it working?
  • What can I change or do to fix it?

Asking yourself these questions will help guide you to finding routines and procedures that work for both you and your students!

Tips for Changing Grade Levels

These are just a few tips for changing grade levels. The point I want to make is that everything is hard at first. It’s so new, so unknown… and being “not good” at something right away is ok! We are blessed to work in a job where each day is a brand new day, with brand new possibilities. Where you can pretend that yesterday didn’t happen and focus on making that day count.

And most of all…remember that you can do anything for one year!

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