The First Day of School

Like so many teachers, I nervously plan, re-plan, and then overplan the first few days of school.  I want my students to feel like this is their class, not my class.  This helps create a positive learning environment that is based on mutual respect and trust.  However, for most of my teaching career I’ve started the first day of school with the course syllabus.  When I left student teaching and landed my first high school teaching job I was told, “Don’t smile until November,” and “Set the rules on the first day so that there is no question as to who is in charge.”  Admittedly, I thought that I could do that.  I could easily tackle the rules part but the whole not smiling axiom just didn’t work for me.  A smile communicates warmth and I certainly didn’t want to create a classroom where students felt that I was cold and uninterested in them as individuals.  So I smiled and then went through the rules.  And I’ve continued to do just that for sixteen years of my teaching career.  Until this week…

On Wednesday, I’m changing it up.  Instead, we’re going to do some relationship building.  If our classroom is going to be focused on teaching and learning, then we’re going to have to build a classroom community based on trust and respect.  So instead of going through the rules immediately,  we’re going to focus less on the “how “ of this class and more on the “who” is in this class.  My high school students are going to be diagnosing their learning styles and committing to habits that support those styles.  The juniors in U.S. HIstory will be creating infographs that demonstrate key events in their lives and word clouds that depict who they are and the things they hold dear.  My goal is that together we will work to create products that depict who we are so that we can create the foundation to our classroom relationship.

If ever you’re in a job interview and you’re asked, “What is your greatest strength?” and you don’t answer, “My connection with students,” then it is entirely likely that you will not get the job.  I’ve sat on many interview committees over the years and admittedly, if I don’t hear that sometime during the interview, I’m not likely to recommend a candidate to be hired.  It’s not that I have a script that I want a prospective teacher to follow or that I am willing to overlook other issues with an interview once I hear that magic phrase, but ultimately, I believe that our connection with students is what allows teachers to access and activate student learning.  Teachers who focus on relationship building first, content, second will inherently find more success in helping that content stick.



5 thoughts on “The First Day of School

  1. Janet Kragen

    Like you, I’m finding the rule setting taking less of my time and the community-building taking more of it. Funny, they still seem to follow the rules. Maybe because they feel like they are part of the community.

  2. Hope Teague

    Yes! At the heart of it is who are we in this learning community–THEN how do we treat people in this space (rules and routines).

    Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Mark Gardner

    The relationships are so important! They’re the bridge…if we want learning to cross from us to the student, that bridge is the only way to make it happen.

    It’s nice being an ELA teacher, since we can use writing and creative media to build those bridges… I imagine it must be different (harder?) in a math or science class where the content has different demands.

  4. Evelyn Cook

    I’ve been working really hard this year of building a true learning community in my classroom of middle schooler’s. I’ve devoted a lot of time for collaborative conversations, team building and learning about having a growth mindset. The atmosphere in my classroom has been so wonderful and I’m loving it. One struggle has been the fact that all the other teachers have been moving on to content already. I’m falling further and further behind. I have support from my admin but it leaves me feeling a little anxious.

  5. Shari Conditt

    Evelyn, it is challenging- no doubt. But just over the past few weeks (we start week 4 on Monday) I haven’t had to discipline whatsoever. My students have been focused, effective, and highly engaged. Pace/time is a challenge we all face but I firmly believe my students are immersed in the learning and as a result are becoming their own agents for growth.

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