The back-to-school commercials are in full swing and everywhere we turn there seems to be some sort of “end of summer” theme. It is officially time we face it, the school year is here. Many teachers take some time over the summer to plan out their first few days back in the classroom with a fresh group of students. In elementary, much of the first day and first week revolves around “ice breaker” activities that welcome the year with a warm and comforting tone. Aside from these go-to activities, there are a few imperative things that every teacher must do their first week back.
Get to Know Your Students
I know that this sounds obvious but what I mean here takes on a little deeper significance. If any week, that first week is a chance to really get to know your students. There are no impending deadlines, report cards are miles away, and the subconscious rush to assess your students’ “academic worth” can wait. I don’t mean get to know your students’ academic strengths and weaknesses. And I don’t mean hand out a sheet that asks students to fill out their favorite color and subject. What I mean here is taking the time in this first week to actually sit down and talk to your students. Sure, asking them about their summer is a good jump off point, but please don’t make them write about their summer like every other teacher in the building is doing. We want to build in our students a love for writing and communicating, not a disdain towards it. Take some time to have group conversations and individual ones where you take the role of facilitator, in a Socratic method style. Get to know them personally; their motivations, their drives, the things that trigger them – for better and worse. Take the time to do this and you will be on your way to building a solid synergy within your classroom.
Now, I am speaking from my experience as an elementary educator. But this ideal can undoubtedly be applied to 16-year-old juniors as well. Many in education contend that there is no learning going on when students simply play. But what learning is happening when students are filling out a Scantron card? Play allows for students to explore, be creative, find unique solutions and problem solve. Isn’t that what we want out of our children? Drama games that involve students getting into different roles are great team building activities that will jumpstart your classroom community. Give that first week of class a retreat-like atmosphere, like the retreats that many corporate companies go on. Being cooperative and having fun is also learning. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Besides, it is the first week.
When you start the school year you must be open and willing to giving every child a fresh start. I know that we say we do, but the instant that DeShawn disrupts the class all that “fresh start” stuff seems to disappear into thin air. You have to be truly conscious, patient and intentional with this philosophy. Don’t allow last year’s attitudes, report card grades or hearsay from other teachers dictate how you engage and look at your new students. Kids grow and mature over the summer, it is actually your responsibility to support this and make your students believe that this is true. Perception is reality – and that works both positively and negatively.
As you pick up your fresh attendance with a batch of new students and enter your classroom that first week, try to instill these three simple things into your practice. The first week should be about creating an effective and engaging classroom community built on trust, honesty and authenticity. These first week starters will go a long way in ensuring that your classroom is full of life and hardworking students for months to come.
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