August 3, 2014

Setting the Tone for the First Day of School

Since school starts on Wednesday, I thought I'd blog about something tonight that is very much on my mind right now! And, really, I'm preaching to the choir on this one. 

I was on Pinterest tonight and I saw a link for a blog post about setting the right tone in your classroom on the first day of school. And, it really struck a note with me because of my experience last year. Now, looking back, I think I know why my first day of school was kind of a disaster. (Also, looking back, it wasn't really a disaster, it just FELT like a disaster because of my expectations.) 

I think three things happened. 

First of all, I tried to do too much. The first day of school is always a half day for us and by the time you get everyone settled, get through some kind of a greeting, get to the cafeteria for brunch and then start dismissal, you really only have about an hour or so of actual meaningful time. And, honestly, I knew all this going in. This was my seventh year of teaching, it's not like this was new for me! But, y'all? I just got blogged down with ideas (pun intended.) I saw soooo many good ideas for the first day on Pinterest and blogs and I wanted to try so many new things and I wanted to try a quick craft and I saw this awesome book we should read and there's this talk about how we all want to be remembered and on and on and on. I just planned too much. My mistake. 

Secondly, I think I just missed my kids from the year before and my expectations were really, really high.  When I moved from first grade to third grade, I ended up with the best class ever. So, my only experience as a third grade teacher up to that point was just blissful happiness. I adored those kids, we had an amazing relationship and I just *knew* that this upcoming class was going to be exactly the same! The anticipation leading up to that first day was so high. And, while I was so excited to be meeting my new kids, they were strangers. We just didn't know each other yet. 

And, lastly, y'all, those kids were a hot mess the first day. There's always this honeymoon period where the kids are usually very quiet and contemplative and engaged the first few days until they get comfortable with me and each other and their *true* personalities come out. But, this class? No way! They were yelling out like crazy and wouldn't stay in their seats and wouldn't follow directions. I was honestly scared to death. And, overall, they were a challenging class. I've said that on here before. But, I adored them. I always worry that I won't like my class and I'm happy to say that in seven years of teaching, that's never been the case.


All that to say, I am bound and determined not to make the same mistakes this year. I've had years where the first day of school was perfect and I had last year when it wasn't. So, what have I learned? 

Here's how I plan to set the tone for the school year on the first day. 

1. Decide what the tone is. 

This seems fairly obvious. Before you can set the tone, you have to decide what that is. For me, I always try to have a calm, organized and enthusiastic tone. One thing I've really worked on as a teaching is being calm. I'm a fast talker and kind of impulsive person, which isn't a bad thing. But, I try really hard to keep calm in my classroom. I want the kids to be calm and if I'm acting crazy, they will too. My principal used to say that the kids in your class take on your personality and that is SOOOO true! The same goes for organization and enthusiasm. If I'm unorganized and scattered, the kids will be too. If I'm not enthusiastic about what we're doing, the kids won't be either. As the leader of our environment, it's my job to set the tone. And if I haven't figured out what that should be, that's a pretty impossible task. 

2. Music helps a lot. 

There's nothing more calming than classical music. Seriously. I have an iPod docking station in  my room and I play classical music all day long, every day. I think it just sets such a peaceful  and uplifting mood in my classroom. When I walk into my room in the mornings, it's the first thing I turn on. It's that important to me. Especially on the first day, when the kiddos are kinda nervous and you are too. I also introduced some anchor songs last year to help with transitions in our room. We had a "morning meeting" song that let the kids know when to start heading to the carpet, a "clean up" song for when they needed to start cleaning up whatever they were working on and a "dismissal" song for when we were packing up. I LOVED this because it really, really helped with the calm tone! Instead of me standing up and barking orders, I just turned on the song and didn't say a word! And, it also cut down on talking and off task-behaviors because after a few days, they knew those songs so well they just HAD to sing along! It took a few days of practice, but ended up just being a great addition to our routine. So, music is a big component for me in setting the tone of my classroom.

3. Have a system in place for all the supplies.

Ohmygosh. One of the most stressful parts of the first day for me is when those sweet kiddos come into my room with bags and bags of school supplies. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they bring them! But, if you don't have a plan in place, you'll end up doing one of two things: spending valuable class time sorting through them OR spending valuable afternoon time sorting them after school. And, both of those are not my idea of a good time! Ha. This year, I plan to have some bins sitting on my guided reading table for all the supplies. That way, they can bring them back to the table and they can be in containers that I can just carry over to my shelves and put away. No hassle and no worries. Remember, calm and organized is what we're going for here. 

4. Be prepared (mentally) for anything.

I don't know about your school but the first day of school at MY school brings some challenges. We have a huge Hispanic population so there's often a language barrier. Also, we have a highly transient school. So, every year, there are a bunch of kids on my roll who don't show up and there are usually a bunch of kids who DO show up who aren't on my roll. I just always plan on having extra name tags on hand and I don't label anything until I actually see who shows up in my classroom. (That's come from years and years of having to throw out name tags and labels of kids who never set food in my classroom.) Last year, I think I had 23 kids on my roll and only 17 showed up. It was crazy. And that happens a LOT at my school. We also have 850 kids so dismissal on the first day is always a challenge that requires lots of patience and all hands on deck. So, all that to say, being mentally prepared really helps. I have to just accept that no matter how much I plan, there are going to be some bumps in the road. If I know that going in, it helps me to stay calm!

5. Be at your door with a smile on your face.

I'm a door-greeter kind of teacher. I stand at my door every. single. day. to greet my kids. I think it's really important to do this for a couple of reasons. Mostly, I just think it's nice to greet my kids. Would you want to walk into a classroom every day where the teacher is over in the corner sharpening pencils or at their computer? I give them all a handshake or hug every morning. Also, I like to stand at my door because I feel like the hallways need to be monitored. Kids can get into trouble faster than you can blink and if all the teachers are in their rooms doing stuff, who is watching the kids in the hall? And, the last reason is because I think it instills independence in my kids. I want them to come in, get their stuff put away and start their morning work by themselves. They don't need me to help them and sometimes I reallyreallyreally want to help them, but I know it's good for them to struggle a little with tough things (especially on something like morning work that we will go over together) and if I'm at the door, I'm not as tempted to bail them out. So, if you are normally going to be standing at your door, you need to be doing so the very first day. I know there are a million other things you can be doing, but absolutely none of those are more important than greeting those new little faces with a big smile at the door. (Also, being at the door helps keep every single parent from coming into the room. I don't mind at ALL if a parent does want to come in, but at my school, by third grade, most of the parents are happy to chat with me at the door and then let their child come into the room by themself.) 

6. Have something for them to do at their desk. 

This needs to be something simple that they can do 100% on their own. And, honestly, I think it's better if it's something fun. The kids are nervous and something simple and easy will give them something to do without frustrating them. And, when you're nervous, do you enjoy doing confusing and daunting things? I have them come in and put their backpacks on their chairs and they just get busy. Ideally (if you don't have my kids from last year) they will quietly work while you're at the door greeting other students. And, you can quietly walk around and talk to them and ask them about what they're working on. In seven years, I've only had the one class where this was not the case. And, truly, I just think those kiddos were a rare breed, ha. But, even they were just chatting with each other about their summer and superduperextraexcited to see each other :) I think having something for them to do that doesn't require toooooo much thinking and patience on their part sets that calming tone. 

7. Keep it simple. 

This is the biggest one. There is SOOOO much I always want to do the first day of school. And, if you believe what you see on Pinterest, you'll think that if you don't teach 20 procedures and do a crafivity and read a book about the first day and make a graph of ways to get home and share a class snack alllllll on the first day, your year is doomed. It's simply not true. I am 100% going to save all talk of procedures for the second day. By third grade, they know how to walk in a line well enough for us to get to the cafeteria and back without practicing it 10 times. And, there's always the next day (when we most definitely WILL practice it 10 times).  I have a craft I want my kids to do, but it requires cutting and gluing and scrapbook paper, so I'll be putting it off until the second day. There's no hurry. Seriously. And, I'm not going to make those kids sit on the carpet for an hour and a half the first day while I go over rules. That can wait, too. All I want them to know on the first day of school is that this is a calm, organized and engaging place to be. They will be loved and appreciated and what we do will be meaningful. My goal is to do three quick activities that are fun, purposeful and exciting. And they will definitely be about building our community. I'll let ya know when I figure out what they are :)

8. Don't dwell on the past.

You know how they say hindsight is 20/20? It's true. Every year on the first day, all I can think about is how much I miss those kiddos who were in those seats the year before. And, that may make me sound bad, but it's true. I like to think it speaks to how much I love my class each year and how much of an impact they make on ME! So every year, I struggle with this. Not to say I don't like the new kids, it just takes me a little while to feel like they're "mine." You know those little stinkers I had last year that gave me so much trouble? Well, as the summer has gone on, I've thought a lot more about the good times than the bad times. Guaranteed, on the first day of school, I'll be missing them like crazy! And, I think that's okay. It does feel weird for a little while. So, just knowing that going into the first day I might have a little bit of the "that last class was *perfect* and this is not the same" feeling makes me feel better. But, this year, I'm determined not to dwell in that mindset like I did last year. As I said before, I've NEVER had a class that I didn't 100% completely love and adore, so it'll come. Even if it takes a few days, it'll come. I've  really been praying about this this year and I'm truly so, so excited to meet those new little friends.

So, that's all I've got. Do you have any other advice for setting the tone the first day? If so, I'd love to hear it!

(Oh, and I added in some pictures of my classroom. A more detailed classroom tour will be coming up this week!) 


miss emily said...

I loved this post. It's so true about the first day. I feel so much pressure to get the procedures done but I have to realize it will happen. I'm in 3rd grade so they know a good amount of stuff. I work at a small school where the classes pretty much stay the same so the kids know each other as well. And that feeling the first day when you miss last years group is so hard. I always forgot how "young" they come in. Any way you would post your first few day schedule? I would love to see it! Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing your insight about the first day of school. I have been using your website to help me get organized this year. Tonight I read about your tips for the first day of school. Very helpful!
-Heather M., Akron, Ohio :)