I have three primary objectives for the first week of school:
- Communicate we are a team; we’re in it together
- Communicate expectations
- Communicate learning goals
We Are a Team
Students do much better in school when they know their teachers care, and the classroom is safe. The first week of school, I like to have students sit in a different place every day, but they cannot sit by the same person until the next week. I come up with daily categories like to sit with someone with the same first initial as yours, who has the same color of shirt, who has the same birthday month, who takes part in a different activity than you, who comes to school a different way than you, who ate the same thing for breakfast today, who wore similar footwear as you, etc. The wackier the sorting topic, the more fun it is for high schoolers. Then I have students introduce themselves to each other.This accomplishes three things: Students meet most of their classmates (especially if I keep this up most of the first month) within a short amount of time, especially those who would only sit next to someone they know. Second, it encouraged students to step safely outside their comfort zones for a moment. Finally, I quickly learn who follows expectations and who tries to slide by.
Ice breakers can be fun, but high schoolers tend to view them like we do when we attend professional development. They enjoy Would You Rather questions, Four Corners (questions that have four answers and they move to a corner based on their answer) can be fun, especially if the questions are relevant like which Marvel character are you: Wanda, Loki, Captain America, or Black Widow?
Everyone Can Succeed
In order to have a safe, successful learning experience, students have to know what I expect of them, what they can expect from me, and what they can expect from each other. I try to keep my expectations to five or less. My primary rules are respect, diligence, and effort.
Everyone in the classroom needs to respect everyone else in the room, including me. We have to value and honor each other in order to have a safe space to be vulnerable with our thinking and speaking. Students need the assurance that while they are in our space, everyone matters, everyone counts. I deal with disrespect early and swiftly. Disrespect is the biggest threat to safety.
Everyone in our classroom has to be diligent with the task before them, whatever that may be. As the teacher, I must be diligent in how I prepare lessons, provide feedback (grade quickly), and offer support. As students, they need to set their phones aside, actively listen, fully participate, and diligently study. This includes being on time to class, staying on task, and being responsible for assignments. What can be fun is asking the students what diligence is and what it looks like. They usually have higher expectations of themselves than I do.
Everyone in our classroom must show genuine effort. I need to give my best as I teach, grade, do paperwork, and facilitate learning. Students need to give their best to discussions, assignments, and interactions.
I hope you noticed: I am the primary example in our classroom. If I’m slacking, my students will too. Also, I can exponentially increase the buy-in with classroom expectations when I include students in the conversation. They have ownership if they describe the behaviors of a successful student, teacher, and class. As I stated, most of the time, they have higher expectations of themselves than I do.
Where Are We Going?
The cliche, “If you shoot at nothing, you’ll hit it every time,” applies to learning, too. At the beginning of the year, in the first or second week, I give students a road map of the year. This is part of my syllabus, but most students do not read them. I provide diagnostic pre-assessments in grammar, vocabulary, and skills to determine where students are in their learning. I have them create a document or spreadsheet to track their own learning throughout the year. I give big picture views of the standards I assess them on throughout the year. Then, with each unit, I explain more details. I try to put myself in my student’s shoes and clearly communicate what’s ahead for the year and the plan to help them succeed.
I admit, it takes time to incorporate team mindset, expectations, and provide a roadmap. However, the time invested in the early days pays off in dividends later in the year. I have to stay on top of expectations and not let students slide by right away, or I will be constantly stopping learning for redirection. Ain’t nobody got time for that! If I start the year on a wonderful note, the rest of the year will be mostly smooth sailing.
Wishing you all the best as you start a new school year,