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The New Teacher Advisor

First Day of School:
Laying the Groundwork

The first day of school is absolutely one of the most important days of the year. It's the day you set the tone for your classroom for the entire year.

Every teacher wants to have a smoothly running classroom, but that's difficult to achieve when you don't know where to start. As a new teacher, you might be feeling as though you're groping around half blindfolded, with only bits and pieces of information, rather than the whole picture. What you need is a vision of what you want your classroom to look like as a positive learning environment. Then you need to take that vision and use the first day of school to lay the groundwork for making it a reality.

Before school starts, take some time to sit down and brainstorm all your expectations. That includes how you want students to behave toward you and one another; how you want the day-to-day activities and transitions to be performed; and how you want your classroom to feel. Within each of those categories, think about different scenarios from your own days as a student, and plan how you will deal with each one. Some questions you might ask yourself include: how will students enter the classroom, leave the classroom, turn in homework, work in team situations, work as individuals? Picture what you want to see happen and then write it down as a statement.

When you've mapped out that information, create a poster of basic classroom expectations for everyone to follow. Your poster won't include every single expectation, just the ones that guide student behavior. You'll also want to create some posters that illustrate procedures for various activities during the day, such as entering and leaving the classroom. Write those procedures in a very basic step-by-step manner, with no more than five steps each. Post those posters where all students can easily read them. When you have a clear idea of how you expect students to behave, and of what you expect them to do from the moment they enter the classroom until the moment they leave the classroom, then you are prepared to explain those expectations to your students.

Now, we lay the groundwork. When planning your first day of school, be sure to alternate between fun ice-breakers and getting-to-know-you activities that build a positive classroom community, and discussions of your expectations and procedures. You need a mixture of both throughout the first several days; students can absorb only so much information at once. By alternating fun activities with practical and serious ones, you give students time to internalize the information. When transitioning from a fun activity to a lesson on expectations or procedures, be sure to review previous information before moving on to new information. For example, you might ask students to show you the quiet signal and explain what it means before discussing more classroom procedures.

Classroom Management Series

Be sure to see all the articles in Emma McDonald’s classroom management series:

* Laying the Groundwork
* Forming Good Habits
* Setting the Tone
* Freedoms and Responsibilities
* Consistency and Flexibility
* Motivational Tools

When discussing classroom expectations and procedures, be sure to speak slowly, establish one-on-one eye contact with each student, and pause significantly after each expectation. That reinforces the impression that the information is important, and it gives students time to listen, understand, and internalize what you are saying. When you rush through and speak quickly, students tend to dismiss the information as unimportant.

You'll also want to practice with students such procedures as the quiet signal, and entering and leaving the classroom. Continue to practice them throughout the next two weeks. By practicing procedures and expectations with students on the first day and through the first few weeks of school, you lay the groundwork for your vision and build habits that will last all year long.

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