8 Things on my “To Do” List to Start the School Year

When the calendar flips to August I start thinking about the start of the school year.  As I make my “to do” list here are eight things I always do to start the year. 

Share New Back-to-School Books

I create a digital list of books that teachers might want to share that have back-to-school themes.  This is my first opportunity to connect before the school year even starts!  I send this list to teachers in an email about three weeks before the school year begins.  It sets the stage for other opportunities to collaborate. 

This list originally began when a teacher asked for some newly published back-to-school books that would be more inclusive of all students.  I had several to share with her, but in our conversation I realized that other teachers did not know what was available.  I decided to create a list of books they might be interested in with links to a book review so they could dive deeper.  I have created this list using a few different resources, but have found that Wakelet has been the best option for me.  

Set Professional Goals

Setting professional goals gives me direction.  It helps me make intentional decisions about the school library.  Furthermore, it guides me when talking with administrators and other stakeholders.  

This year I am still deciding what some of my goals will include, but I know one of them will be to genrefy the fiction section.  It is long overdue!  It will make a huge difference for students as they are looking for what to read next.  Another goal will be to continue several programs that help develop a positive culture of reading.  Finally, I plan to rethink how to share book talks to both teachers and students this year.  

Decide what Data to Collect

A few years back I realized I had to think about the data I wanted to collect before I needed it.  I know this seems obvious, but it was usually at the end of the year that I would say, “I wish I had thought to keep track of that!”  By then it was too late! 

Some of the things I track do not change from year to year, like circulation statistics or instructional minutes.  Other years I want to track data to match with the professional goals I have set.  I ask myself the question, “What things do I want to highlight about the school library?”  Then I come up with a quick plan to make sure I follow through.  This plan always includes taking lots of pictures to help share the story of the school library. 


After reading Jennifer LaGarde’s blog post back in 2015 called “Six Tips for Building Book Displays That Matter” (She has since updated this post in 2020.) I realized I needed to change the way I approach displays.  Now I think about how to make my displays interactive and meaningful to the school community.  I also make sure they are something we can maintain throughout the year.

My displays this year will continue to include books that others may not find on their own.    However, I hope to include more students in the process.  I also plan to share what teachers are reading using large windows at the front of the school library.  

Further, I am going to continue to think about the concept of dynamic shelving shared by Kelsey Bogan.  I want to use all my available space to share books with my learners.  I just purchased these metal magnetic shelves to put more books on display front facing.  We will see how they work!

Introduction Letter

This is something I have been doing for the past seven years and will continue to do into the foreseeable future.  Some of my colleagues have gotten seven versions of this letter, but I think it is so important to set the stage for what the school library is.  It invites collaboration and helps to keep the big ideas at the forefront.  

This is always a printed letter and has food too!  I have done this letter in a variety of ways and the information may be slightly modified, but the underlying message is always the same.  Here is my original letter from 2015.  Here is the introduction letter I used last year. This idea was borrowed from this blog post by Shannon McClintock Miller.  This year’s theme is one I am still working on but I plan to connect it to our school mascot if I can! 

Meet with Teachers

This is probably the most important thing on my list!  The school library uses a hybrid schedule and setting up time to meet with teachers is critical to its success.  I typically use a monthly menu to help get things started.  Usually in the meeting other ideas and projects are discussed as well.  This meeting can be a long one, but it allows our partnership to be set up for success.  

To start the conversation, I send an email with lesson and project possibilities about a week before we report back.  That allows teachers to think about ideas before we chat in person.  I meet with each grade level individually to focus on their needs.  During these meetings we schedule lessons for the first month of school and brainstorm future projects. 

Decide on Management of the Space

How to use the space effectively is something I always revisit.  The biggest thing I think about is how students will move through the library space.  When they come in, where will they sit?  Where is the best place for the check out desk to be in relation to the learning spaces? Where are students going to line up at the end of class?  Will tables be in groups or spaced out?  Where will supplies be located? Now that there are less restrictions due to changes in COVID precautions I am excited to think about these ideas.  

Lesson Planning

So I know there are school librarians who are able to plan a whole year ahead of time.  I have learned this is not me!  I usually have curriculum objectives and themes that I focus on at certain times of the year, but for the most part things are not planned that far in advance.  First, I am too easily overwhelmed if I plan that far out.  Additionally, I have found I miss opportunities for collaboration or making connections with learners if looking too far ahead.  

After meeting with teachers at the start of the year, I get a feel for what we are going to be able to work on together and what I have to incorporate in other ways. Then I start to plan what books and activities I want to start with.  This year I have this desire to start fresh so I really am going to be looking at each book and lesson I have done in the past to decide if it is still the right fit.  

Being that I work with students in preschool through 3rd grade, the first month is usually reserved for library expectations and other orientation type activities.  I usually teach things like the process for checking out books, book care, how to use a shelf marker, library stations, and how to use the catalog.  I will use this reading interest survey with students in first through third grade to help me learn about student’s reading lives too!

What things do you do that helps you to find success during the year? I would love to compare notes! 


Author: Kelly Hincks

I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a school librarian for the past eleven years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a school librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I currently serve as secretary of my state association, Michigan Association of School Librarians (MASL).

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Uncategorized

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2 replies

  1. Hi Kelly,

    I found your 8 tips to start the school year really helpful! I am just beginning my journey to becoming a teacher librarian and so reading your blog brought so much excitement for me. I really liked how you curated a list of books to start off the year on the Wakelet platform – it’s simple, efficient and effective!

    I am currently a primary classroom teacher and I also find it too difficult to plan for the whole year. My core teaching value is putting the child in the centre of the design for learning, which means I often cater the themes and topics based on the students’ or class’ interest while making sure it still aligns with the curriculum.

    I am wondering what does collaboration look like between the Teacher Librarian and Classroom Teacher? How does collaboration fit the library schedule? Do you start the school year with collaboration in mind? I am wondering how to even begin collaboration during the beginning of the school year.


  2. Hi Elissa,

    Welcome to the best profession ever! I am glad you found the article helpful! Your questions are big ones and what works for one person may not work in every situation, but here are my thoughts. Collaboration is always my focus. “Does this support students and/or teachers?” is the question I ask myself when I am trying to prioritize my to-do list. I have a unique schedule compared to many elementary librarians. I use a hybrid schedule, so some of my classes are fixed each week and others are scheduled based on need. This leads to collaboration and co-teaching opportunities because there is time to fit it in. Probably the easiest way to explain my approach would be to listen to a podcast I did with Amy Hermon on School Librarians United – https://schoollibrariansunited.libsyn.com/181-4-levels-of-collaboration.

    Let me know if you have more questions!

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