The planning has been done and the page is no longer blank. But just because words have been placed upon a page or plans have put into motion, doesn’t mean that flexibility won’t call for change.
There are many things a teacher must consider when beginning a new school year. It’s crucial to put emphasis on learning and perhaps even worth considering forgoing the usual discussion of rules and management in order to set the tone by elevating relationships and learning by addressing them first.
Students don’t only receive our verbal messages, they get the unspoken meta-messages as well; our body language, pedagogical choices and proximity to content speak volumes. In writing this would equate to our diction and mechanics, subtle choices we make that determine the way a reader will receive a message.
Once our schedules are made and a tentative plan has been put in place (the first draft), it’s time to start making revisions. First always, the big ones. Who are you teaching? What message are you looking to convey to that audience? What will you prize most this year?
Pause… these are important questions to answer. They should be considered deliberately and then choices need to be made.
Because we don’t want the first day to bring dread to our students, we need to find a way to engage them and communicate the intended message with everything we do. How many times can kids fill our Delaney cards or index cards on the first day of school with pertinent home information on them?
For goodness sake, don’t place seating arrangements and attendance at the top of the priority list.
Consider a game… a smart one. The kind doesn’t feel like learning, but offers a wealth of data to make better decisions for the above questions in the days that follow. Allow students to interact with each other and begin to build trusting relationships that will foster risk taking in a safe environment later.
Ice-breakers are a great way to get kids moving. Why not create a mission for the kids to create a poster or design an area of the room that will both help them earn a stake in the space and also develop a culture of learning and trust in the space. Getting kids to work together on a shared project is a great way to see how well they deal with each other and frustration and problem solving.
As they work, you can circulate with an iPad or a clipboard (whatever you’re more comfortable with) and make low level observations about what you notice. Talk to the groups. Get to know them first by their personalities and participation. See who takes charge and how others relate to that child. See who hangs back. If you know the students already, have you noticed any changes in their dynamic in the group?
As the draft develops and the first days unfold, remind yourself often that you’re building a shared environment of learning that supports a culture where risk taking and failure is supported and encouraged and reflection time about those experiences are extended during class time. We spend time in class on things we value – the learning that makes the impact, so we make the time.
What will you do with the first day of school? How will you get to know your students better?
This article was originally published on Starr Sackstein’s EdWeek Blog.