Setting The Tone: 5 Tips For Your First Week of School - Kristi Harjo Top
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Setting The Tone: 5 Tips For Your First Week of School

Now, this might go against all the advice you have been given about what to do during your first week, but I’m going to say it anyway. I don’t take up time in my class to teach RULES. Yup, I said it. I don’t teach rules. I haven’t been teaching rules for almost 10 years now, and guess what? My class runs just fine, and I don’t have many behavior issues. Want to know how I can get away without teaching rules? Read on as I go over my 5 tips for your first week of school, including how not to teach rules and still set the tone for a positive learning environment.

5 tips for the first week of school

Tip #1 For your First Week of School: Stop teaching rules!

Here is the thing. If you are teaching middle school or high school students, they already know the school’s basic rules and the class. They have been taught the rules since they entered elementary school. If you look at the rules posted in any teacher’s class, you see that they all pretty much say the same thing. Be kind, be respectful, no chewing gum, raise your hand… The list goes on and on. Then you have the school rules. The middle school rules might be slightly different from their elementary, and their high school might also have slightly different rules. Those rules are the school’s policies, and usually, there is some advisement or assembly to go over them during the first week of school. So again, you don’t need to use up time in your class to teach them. What is important to teach is the procedures. Which, leads me to tip #2.

first week of school tip, stop teaching rules

Tip #2 For Your First Week of School: Focus on teaching, reteaching, and practicing procedures

Procedures are more important than rules when it comes to setting the tone. Having certain procedures for what students should do when they first come into class. Understanding the procedures for getting help, sharpening pencils, asking to use the restroom, turning in an assignment, or what to do if they are absent. Also, what they are supposed to do during the last few minutes of class. Here is where every teacher is going to be different. If you have students transitioning from having one teacher to having 5 or 6 teachers, it will take them more time to remember what is expected of them in your class. Perhaps in your class, they can sharpen their pencil as long as you are not speaking to the class or giving directions, but in another class, they can’t get up for anything without raising their hand and waiting for the teacher to call on them. Be patient with your students. Post the basic procedures so that they can see them and reference them. Practice what to do. If they forget, smile and gently remind them of how it is done in your class. If you don’t have a set procedure for coming into class, collecting work, getting supplies, or ending the day, now is the time to create them.

Here is an example of some of my procedures.

  • Entering Class: Students are to read the white board which lets them know what supplies they need for the day. They then get their supplies and put the backpacks in one of the four locations around the room based on their group number. I don’t allow my students to keep their backpacks at their desk because it makes it more difficult for me to walk around. Once they have done that they write the agenda for the day into their planner and then do the check-in activity
  • Getting Materials: My students sit in groups and they are numbered 1-4. I call out a number and that student gets the material for the group if we are doing a lab. I also have a box of supplies at the desk. Everyday it is the responsibility of the assigned person in the group to check the supply box when they first enter and then again at the end of class to make sure nothing is missing.
  • Collecting papers and passing out papers: I do alot of things digitally but for paper assignments I use folders. Each group has a folder and each class has a different color. I place the group folder on the desk, the students have one minute to put their papers into it, then I collect them. After they are graded I then place the folder with the graded papers on the desk and the students remove their papers from the folder.
  • Absent and late work: The school policy is for every day absent they have one day to make it up. I have a folder for absent work that the students will put their paper into. They are also required to borrow a students planner to write down the agenda of the day the were absent. I do keep a google doc that shows the agenda for the day and any links to handouts they will need. It is shared with the students so they can aslo go there to get the information.
  • End of Class: During the last few minutes I will announce that it is time to wrap it up and reflect on the day. Students put away any supplies and then do some type of reflection about what they learned. This is also the time for them to go over the days agenda to see what we were able to actually cover, if we need to continue in class tomorrow, or if they need to finish a small part of it at home.

Tip #3 For Your First Week of School: Do something fun that will build community on the first day

Typically during the first day of school, teachers are going over the syllabus, giving a little introduction about themselves, going over the rules and procedures of their class, and the students are spending most of their time listening. They might do a get to know me activity at the end, but that’s it. Put yourself in their shoes. You just went from sleeping in late, playing video games, relaxing, and binging on your favorite show. Now it’s your first day, and you are moving from one teacher to the next, just sitting and listening all day long. By the time your fourth class comes around, you’re just wondering when the torture will be over. So do something unexpected. Don’t introduce yourself on the first day. Hand them the syllabus so that they have the suggested supply list to give to their parents but don’t go over it yet. Introduce a few key procedures like entering class but don’t overwhelm them with all of them. Procedures are best taught at the moment. Instead, have some fun team-building activity or science experiment that they can do that will help them get to know other students in their class and get them thinking and discussing.

first week of school tip, do a fun activity

Tip #4 For Your First Week of School: Start Building Relationships

The key to having fewer behavior problems is not strict rules and harsh punishments. The key is to build relationships with your students. Get to know who your students are. What are they interested in? What do they like to do after school? What is their home life like? It all starts with learning and using their names and preferred pronouns. Here are some ideas:

  • Greet them at the door with a smile and by their name.
  • Have them fill out a questionair survey.
  • Do a get to know you activity: this or that, would you rather…
  • Have them create a google slide that represents who they are.

For more ideas on building relationships, check out my post on “How to build positive relationships with your students.”

Tip #5 For Your First Week of School: Incorporate SEL

Your students are just coming back from summer. Their emotional needs will be all over the place. For some, school is their only safe zone. For others, a school is a place of high anxiety. They more than likely didn’t have a set schedule during the summer and will need support setting good habits to help them. I like to incorporate SEL throughout the year with mindfulness and teaching habits of success. It is crucial to take some time, in the beginning, to help them learn some basic techniques that they can use throughout the year. Such as how to take some deep, clarifying breaths when they are feeling stressed, worried, or anxious. How to organize themselves, set a schedule, create some goals, and a game plan for reaching those goals. To help you get started, I have a free introduction to SEL starter course that will introduce mindfulness and goal setting.

Bonus: Get students involved with setting expectations

I have found that when my students are invested in their learning that they do better. When they feel that their voice counts and have a say in the classroom, the behavior problems drop dramatically. One way to do this is to allow students to be involved in the process of setting expectations. Students have been in enough classrooms and have been with enough teachers to know what works and what doesn’t. Instead of telling them the classroom and group expectations, have them create them. Ask them to come up with ideas for what makes a positive learning environment. What would the students be doing, and what would the teacher be doing? They can share their ideas with a group and then, as a group, decides on the three top ideas. Have the groups share out and then vote on a class what the expectations will be. Make it even more powerful by having them sign their names. You can also do this for expectations while working in groups.

Later on, if a student is not following one of the expectations, you can quietly have a conversation with them. You can remind them that they were the ones who created the expectations along with their class. Then you can work on a strategy for how they can better follow them.

I hope you found these 5 tips helpful, and let me know what other tips and strategies you would like to learn more about?

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