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The first day of a new school year offers a special opportunity to set the stage for the year, create first impressions, and begin building relationships. Careful planning and preparation can make your initial meeting with students a time of excitement, reassurance, and anticipation. As you get ready to start the new year, here are six “don’ts” and “do’s” to make the first day comfortable, engaging, and productive for all. 

Don’t: 

Assume students should know who you are and make them guess what the year will be like. 

Do: 

Allocate time to introduce yourself, and preview what their learning journey with you will be like. Consider sharing who you are, some basics about your family, when and why you decided to become a teacher, what you like about your work, and what you plan to do to make the year ahead rich and successful for your students. What you share can lessen the anxiety of students who may be fearful or uncertain. For all students, having a sense of who their teacher is and how committed that teacher is to their success can leave them eager for what lies ahead.  

Don’t:  

Delay relationship building with students. 

Do: 

Focus on getting to know your students. Listen carefully to their names, especially how they pronounce them. Learning students’ names quickly is a sign that you respect and value them. Pay particular attention to names from other cultures with which you may be unfamiliar. You might also invite students to share a nickname they prefer that you use, but be careful about assigning nicknames or using nicknames you have already heard; students may not want to be called by a nickname they have been assigned by friends or others. An initial seating chart can be helpful, even if students will be able to choose their seats once they settle in. If you assign seats alphabetically, consider doing so in reverse order, or using another strategy that avoids having students with names at the beginning of the alphabet seated closest to you and those with names at the end of the alphabet farthest away.  

Don’t: 

Assume students inherently know the value and utility of what they will be learning. 

Do: 

Find something interesting, unique, and surprising—and ideally, useful—about what you will be teaching to engage students. A list of fascinating facts, an unusual application, or an often-overlooked element within your content might be a good place to start. For example, you could share how the mathematics that students will be learning can be used to solve real-world problems, recount little-known stories about famous people who are or were voracious readers or writers, or describe how science promises to solve some of the world’s most vexing challenges. The goal is to give students a picture of how interesting and useful what they are going to learn in your class can be in their lives.   

Don’t: 

Read a list of classroom rules and expectations you have set. 

Do: 

Share with students that, throughout the first week, you and they will discuss classroom routines, norms, expectations, and rules together. Invite them to think about ideas and experiences they might share to support their learning and help them to be comfortable while in the class. Typically, the first day is better spent developing relationships and generating interest and anticipation. Also, signaling to students that they will have opportunities to provide input and participate in shaping how the class will operate demonstrates that you value them and their perspective and that you want them to feel safe and comfortable while learning.  

Don’t: 

Spend time handing out textbooks and other materials. 

Do: 

Pre-position textbooks and other standard materials on students’ desks, or have materials placed in a convenient place for students to pick them up as they enter the room. The time with students on the first day is precious. Spending time distributing textbooks and other materials that could have been organized in advance risks missing opportunities to engage students and begin building those crucial relationships.  

Don’t: 

Read aloud the class syllabus and list the exams students will take, the projects for which they will be responsible, and other requirements of the class. 

Do:  

Prioritize your time with students to maximize interest, build anticipation, and instill confidence that students will find success and usefulness in the time you will spend together. While you might provide students with a copy of the syllabus and any other information regarding how the year might unfold, save your discussion of this information for later. 

In many ways, the first day sets the tone and forms the path for the year ahead. The time spent planning, structuring, and preparing to make the first day interesting and motivating for our students is well worth the effort and can pay rewards that last well into the year.

Thought for the Week

When we understand another person’s perspective, what they are thinking and feeling, we are better able to relate to them and understand their needs.

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