How to Make Your First Day of School The Best One Ever

There is a lot of pressure on teachers. You have to teach the right thing in the right way at the right time.  Meet the demands of the curriculum.  Meet the demands of this year's new initiatives.  Meet the demands of the new evaluation system. Get to know each student.  Differentiate to each of their needs.  Communicate with parents.  Listen to their needs.

And, as we all know, I could go on and on and on.

I'd like to suggest something different this year.  Just one small thing to make your first day, and maybe your whole year, the best one ever for both you and your students.  First, I want you to stop and put yourself in a student's place.  Some of them are so eager to come back to school on the first day that they have their wardrobe planned for an entire week, a schedule made of their morning routine, and they take out their school supplies daily, lay them on their beds and admire them.  (OK, maybe that was just me as a kid, or yesterday, but whatever...) There are other kids who are terrified about the first day.  They've moved or have changed schools and know no one. They have no idea what to expect.  And then there are those who are dreading school with a poisonous passion. School has never been a happy place.  It's overwhelming, hard, and full of mean people - kids and teachers - who will quickly discover all the things this student can't do, and this will be another year of misery.

Once you've put yourself into that student's place, visualize your first day.  All that energy (whether nervous, excited or angry) channeled into school to do what?  Listen to teacher after teacher go over the syllabus?  Listen to lunch procedures, rules and how to act in the hall?  Play game after game where you're expected to tell weird things about yourself to people you don't know, don't care about or worse, fear?  Or maybe you get to listen to kids who had awesome summers traveling Europe, going to camp, and spending time at their lake house?  Now you're supposed to share how you stayed home because your parents worked, and it was the longest summer of your life?  How do you feel?

What if instead of thinking that students are coming to our classes, we imagined that new customers are coming to our business and it's our job to win them over?  What if we imagine that is our job to make these customers feel valued, listened to, safe, and cared for?  What if we stood at our doors and greeted every student with a smile - an actual, genuine smile, not a forced grimace hiding behind a coffee mug - at seeing every single student? Would it make us plan our day a little differently?  I mean, come on, who'd come back to your business if you pinned your customers in a chair and talked at them for an hour straight?  Who'd visit your store if you yelled at them when they asked to go to the bathroom?  We don't try to leave places we like and feel genuinely valued.

I'd like to suggest that this little mind-shift would make us do our whole first day, maybe even the whole year, better than usual. With everything you plan, just ask, will the customers want to come back tomorrow if I do this?

Does this mean you need to run your class like summer camp?  Have a free-for-all with candy, soda and crazy chaos until all the kids drop to the floor in sugar-induced coma?  No way!  Your business is still your business (I mean, unless you're running an arcade or an amusement park, but that's probably a different post.  On a different blog.  We're teachers here!)

It does mean we need to accept that these are kids in our classes - some giant, 200 lb. 6 foot tall kids! - and before anything productive happens, they all need to have their basic needs met and they need to feel safe. Remember Maslow?  We might not control whether our kids had breakfast or got enough sleep the night before, but we can control how safe they feel with some little shifts.

1.  Instead of telling kids what they'll be doing this year, ask them what they want to get out of your class.  A simple quick write, before you tell them what the class is about, lets them know you care about what they want and what they need.  Here's a sample:

2.  Plan safe get-to-know-you activities. Not all kids come to school ready to share their lives with the world.  Some are just the opposite. They don't want to share so they either refuse (not a good situation to have a stand-off the first day) or they say something outrageous to make everyone laugh (like the kid who said his favorite hobby was to trap - which I had to look up on Urban Dictionary because he didn't look like a woodsy, hunting kind of kid). When I think of ways to get kids talking to me and others, I try to plan movement and things anyone could talk about.  This year, we're going to play Would You Rather...?  The kids will choose 8 questions to answer (from my list of 15), circle their answers and then they'll find five other people to talk with and ask questions to.  The kid that doesn't want to move?  No big deal; other kids will come to him.  The kid who wants to say crazy stuff? Perfect!  She has an outlet!  Here's my assignment:

I get to know a lot about my students from the questions and answers they choose, how they interact with others, what they say, if they choose to do it or not.  And, bonus, they just read and wrote without even thinking they were reading and writing!

3.  Plan short chunks of instruction with movement built in.  I don't know about you, but when I get to those first day back meetings, and I have to sit for like 45 minutes straight, I'm dying.  My body is literally itching with the desire to move (Do you think restless-body syndrome is a thing?  Because if it is, I totally have it.)  So if I, a grown woman who knows better, cannot sit still for long periods of time, why do we think our students can (OR SHOULD!?)?  So mix it up!  Plan some sitting, some standing, and some moving.  Can you work in a field trip to show them where the closest bathroom is?  Do it.  And if you're really adventurous, try out some alternative seating in your classroom.  I got these WittFitt stability balls ( several years ago, but a rug on the floor also works great. 

Our minds are powerful.  They allow us to dream and imagine situations that don't even exist...yet. So this year, why not use that imagination to create a classroom environment that focuses on what kids want and need?  Don't think students, think happy, satisfied customers.  I promise it will pay off.  You know that syllabus can wait.

Happy first day!


  1. Love this! Are you willing to share the files for "Would You Rather?" I'd love to try it in my middle school classroom!


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