Focus Areas for the First Day of School

On the first day of school there’s often a ton we’d like to do, but more often than not we end up having very little time with our students due to assemblies, shortened schedules, or other first-day scenarios. When planning for that day, then, instead of trying to cram in as much as possible, try focusing mainly on how you want to set the tone for your class. What impression do you want students to have about you and your class and how will you make that impression? When I was teaching, the impression I wanted my students to have was that I was nice and I cared about them, that my class would be fun, but also that I was clearly in charge. If yours is anywhere in that ballpark, here are two areas to focus on that will get you there and a few ways to approach each area.

Make connections. This is the first step in letting our students know we care about them and that we’re ‘nice.’ While coming across as ‘nice’ may seem like a superficial goal, it’s actually an essential first step towards building the strong relationships that lead to strong student achievement. Kids work hard for teachers they have relationships with and they won’t want to have a relationship with us if we’re not nice, it’s that simple.

  • Greet each student individually. You can begin to build a positive relationship with every student on the very first day of school by making sure to greet each one of them. Many teachers like to greet students at the door as they walk in. Or if you’re having them complete an interest inventory or other assignment on the first day, you might try going around the room and meeting each of them while they’re working.
  • Lend a hand. Inevitably on the first day, a student will get lost, get nervous, drop something, need something, etc. Look out for these situations and be the person who is right there ready to help. Whoever you help will not only be grateful, but see you as someone they can depend on.
  • Work hard to learn names. Students will notice if you’re trying hard to learn their names and as soon as you know their names, you can start developing a positive relationship. You can’t move from a strong first impression to developing a strong relationship until you at least know their name.
  • Share your story. If you share some of your personal background with your students, it allows them to immediately start connecting with you. Showing family photos or telling a funny story about yourself are surefire connectors that will help you stand out in your students’ minds at the end of the day.

Assert yourself.  There are many ways we can assert ourselves depending on our personalities and preferences, but the goal of asserting ourselves is to make sure our students leave our classroom on day one confident that we are the leaders of our classrooms. Here are a few avenues for doing that.

  • Put them to work. If you want students to know that they’re going to work hard in your class and learn a lot, trying giving them a rigorous task to struggle with on the very first day. This is one way to positively assert that you mean business versus doing it through consequences or reprimands.
  • Sweat the small stuff. It can be tempting to let little things slide since it’s the first day, but this is actually the perfect time to confidently and positively redirect any behaviors you see that are not appropriate so that students immediately know where your boundaries are. These situations can help set your expectations early and prevent you from having to assert yourself later through consequences. For more strategies on preventing misbehaviors, see our previous post Leading with Positivity.
  • Plan out every detail. This can be especially effective for those of us who are not typically assertive with our personalities or for those of us who are new to the classroom and so may not be feeling quite confident yet. If your first lesson is meticulously planned and practiced, the procedures are smooth, and you have a plan for anything that could come up, that will assert your leadership. Your students will notice and feel confident that you have things well in hand.
  • Share your passion. If you are someone who naturally has an engaging, confident presence in front of the classroom, let that strong presence carry your message on day one. If you can speak compellingly about all that the students will accomplish during the year, how pumped you are about what’s ahead, or whatever other message you want to share, then go for it. A high level of engagement and energy on the first day of school not only asserts your confident leadership, but makes your students excited to get on board and follow your lead.

How else do you make connections and assert yourself on the first day of school? Add your strategies in the comments below!

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