Education Corner: The First Few Days of School

Posted by PCJE Staff on May 30, 2018
Topics: School Year Cycle

How do you make a good first impression with your students? What are your specific goals for the first few days of school? What are some specific actions that you can take to make those first few days and weeks of the school year a little less hectic and more productive? These are questions most teachers are asking themselves in the weeks before a new school year starts. Read below for tips and suggestions compiled by PCJE staff and alumni.

How do you get to know your students:
Decide what you want to know about your students, and why; certainly, you will want information that will best enable you to establish a safe learning environment and foster each student’s growth. Here are some ideas:

  • Prepare a google survey with questions about how they learn, their personal interests, and their past experience learning the topic/s that you teach, as it can be helpful to know their beginning attitudes towards the subject/s.
  • In advance of the first day of school, teachers should use school photos to put faces to names on their attendance list/s so that they already have an idea of who’s who when they walk into the room.
  • Over the course of the first few weeks of school, make an effort to observe your students outside of class during free time, lunch, recess, and other activities. Engage them informally in the halls and during meals.
  • On the first day, have your students make their own name cards to keep on their desks for the first week/s of school. In addition to their names, have them draw an image/symbol that is meaningful to them or their favorite X (animal, color, food, etc). Your students can talk about their image or picture as a way of introducing themselves.
  • For older students: Ask them to write a letter of recommendation about themselves – what you’ll love about them and the support they’ll need. For younger ones: have them complete some sentences like: I learn best when… I am good at…I like to…
  • These classic ice breakers can be a great way to set a relaxed atmosphere and get engaging, personal and fun conversations going in your classroom.
  • Consider putting out objects or postcards and ask students to choose one that reflects themselves as a learner, or how they see the subject they will be learning. They can share their ideas with the group.

How do your students get to know you:
Here is your chance to set a tone of mutual trust and responsibility and create a classroom community where everyone’s contribution matters. You might consider sharing why you love to teach what you teach, a hobby that you are passionate about or something about your family. Give some thought to what you might want to share and why; newer teachers, especially, might want to be careful about how much they share about themselves.

How will students know what they will be learning this coming year:
You want to get your students excited for the learning they will do over the course of the school year in your class, but how best to accomplish that?

  • Try to formulate a variety of open ended, big picture questions that you can pose to your students that will pique their curiosity and get them wanting to explore further. Consider hanging something on the walls (a picture, quote, or question) that first day that will get them asking questions about what they will be learning.
  • Give them a preview of the big end of the year project that they will complete and explain how all the learning they do over the course of the year will enable them to complete that project.
  • Have your students brainstorm (perhaps in groups) what they already know about certain topics that you will be covering. Then hint at the ways their understanding and knowledge will be expanded over the course of the year. It can be fun to keep their lists, repeat the exercise at the end of the school year and compare the two to demonstrate to the students how much they have learned. You could consider using this thinking routine to help you structure this activity.
  • Another great activity for helping students identify what they do and don’t know about a topic is carousel brainstorming. Click here (and scroll down to the Education Corner segment) to learn more about the technique.

What do you do to make your classroom inviting and/or conducive to learning:

  • Greet students at the door of the classroom and introduce yourself personally.
  • Make sure the room looks ready – with pictures, posters, key-words that reflect your beliefs. Be sure to include a place for students to have input, perhaps a parking lot for questions or a designated place for their work.
  • Place a copy of a book, text or course-pack that students will be using in your class on each desk. Have students sit down and give them a chance (with some prompts or tips if necessary) to quietly look through the book, become familiar with it and generate questions, observations or concerns that they might have.

How do you introduce class rules and/or policies (or not):
While some think best to hold off on class rules until day two, so as not to overwhelm students and maximize the time you have for community building and introducing content, others feel that slowly introducing at least one class rule on the first day, or other routine and procedure is vital. This will give students the sense of the boundaries and structure that you will be maintaining over the course of the year. However, even with this approach, it is probably best to only introduce 1-3 rules in the first week and slowly add more over the first few weeks of class. Be creative and joyful in how you present these rules and policies.

  • Have students be a part of the process in developing the class rules or expectations. Break them into groups and have them consider what they would need in a safe and comfortable learning environment and what structures and/or behaviors help them learn.
  • Have student create a class haskama/contract, which is a formal and explicit way to get students involved in the process of setting classroom rules, boundaries and expectations.
  • Be sure to explain the reasoning behind any policy or rule you establish. Even if students don’t like or agree with you, they will know that nothing is arbitrary or senseless.

What, if anything, can you do ahead of time (personal or professional) so that you are less distracted in the first week/s of school:

  • Get a haircut or do whatever personal grooming thing that you want in advance. It always feels great to walk into the year feeling really fresh.
  • Be familiar with your attendance lists, your weekly schedule and other responsibilities you will have during the year.
  • Get a head start on some photocopying, pre-write emails to parents that you will send out during the first week of class, prepare for back-to-school night, etc.
  • Cook a week’s worth of dinner and put it in the freezer.
  • Consider emailing friends and family to give them a heads up that you might be slow to respond or hard to reach for the first few weeks of the school year. Or, write and address all of your Rosh Hashanah cards in advance.

    For more ideas to bring back to your classroom on the first days of school, click here. We wish you much joy, growth, creativity and inspiration for this upcoming school year!

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