The first week of school is filled with introductions, activities, expectations, reminders, instructions, and other attractions and distractions. However, everything that happens will be mined for meaning by our students. Our expressions and mannerisms, off-hand comments, and responses to questions matter. Even what we choose to ignore holds potential significance for students who are trying to figure out who we are, what we expect, and what they can expect from us.
We must pay close attention to our interactions with and reactions to students in these first days. These experiences often set the stage for the year ahead. First impressions stick and can be difficult to change. Careless assumptions and untested perceptions can create separation and resistance that will require much time and significant experience to overcome.
By the time the end of the first week arrives, students will have already reached many conclusions and sorted multiple key messages they believe they have received from us. Our challenge is to be intentional about the impression we want to make, thoughtful regarding the messages we want to send, and planful about how to convey these messages.
Let’s explore five messages students would like to hear, as well as the evidence students might seek to support their interpretation of our messages.
My teacher’s expectations are clear.
Routines help students avoid uncertainty and confusion. Students seek clarity and consistency. They want to know what we expect from them and how to meet our expectations. Of course, students may occasionally test us to confirm that we mean what we say. However, they abhor being held responsible for something they were not told or shown. Our planning, preparation, and clear goals can give students confidence that we know what we are doing and our expectations can be taken seriously.
My teacher is interested in and excited about what we will be learning.
Our excitement can be contagious. Students are more likely to buy in when we enjoy talking about what we are teaching. The message becomes even stronger when we communicate that we want students to enjoy what they are learning, too. When we share insights, tell stories, and point out interesting details, we make learning more interesting and inviting.
My teacher is interested in getting to know me.
With so much to be done in the first days of the year, we can neglect to take the time to learn who our students are and understand how we can best connect with them. The activities and sharing opportunities we plan, the questions we ask, and the listening we do sends a strong message regarding our interest in our students. Inviting students to share more than their names and paying attention to their questions can yield valuable information about how to reach and teach them. Of course, we also can learn much about personalities and preferences by observing during discussions, during group work, and even during independent work times.
My teacher is committed to my success.
Students want reassurance that we believe they will succeed. In fact, students will do amazing things if they are convinced that we believe in them and their capacity to be successful. Our beliefs and attitude can instill hope and confidence, especially when reinforced with trust and opportunities for autonomy. Further, we send a powerful message of commitment when we share that we cannot be successful unless they are successful.
My teacher has a sense of humor.
We do not have to be comedians to enjoy and share humor. We might occasionally share jokes, but appreciating what is unexpected, serendipitous, unplanned, and funny can be just as important. Humor can help us connect with students, break tension, and reduce pressure. However, we need to be careful to avoid humor—ours and from students—that is disrespectful, hurtful, or discriminatory.
Admittedly, the first week of school can be a busy, pressure-filled time. However, the investment we make to send messages that connect with and reassure our students can play a crucial role in setting the stage for a successful and satisfying year.