Pick what works best for your classroom to lay a positive groundwork on day one.
Seems like everyone’s got his or her own tricks to set students up for success from the moment they step into the classroom. But, like so many strategies, you’ve got to find the ones that best fit YOU. We put together a go-to list of tone-setting strategies so you can pick what will work best in your classroom.
- Set yourself up for success.
It’s easy to enter the school year in true tornado fashion, a whirling bundle of nerves and back-to-school nightmares — but if you’re a stress mess (even if you’re good at hiding it!), you won’t be able to teach at your best. Avoid anxiety traps by prepping your classroom in advance and carving out intentional sanity-preserving breaks to decompress in the busy weeks before the first day back. Give summer a sweet send off with an inspiring book or podcast, family time, a bubble bath, dinner with a friend — you name it. Get your fill of sleep and vitamin-rich food to fuel your shift back to work.
- Warm up.
No, really — be warm. The once-popular opinion that the first day was for laying down the law with an iron fist just is not the way to go. Firm, yes — but friendly, inquisitive, kind, and fun as well. Swing the door open wide and welcome students with a smile. Try your best to memorize names and faces and to make personal connections with each child.
- Assign seats.
I’ve heard arguments on both sides of this one, but take it from me (a once terribly shy kid who found selecting a seat to be an anxiety attack in the making), you’ll ease a lot of nerves by selecting for them. Bonus: It will make matching faces to names a lot faster for you. Free yourself up to greet incoming students at the door by labeling desks with nametags or numbers; your kiddos can find their own chairs.
- Get to work.
Giving students an engaging task to do as soon as they’re in their seats gives you a few minutes to connect with individuals as you walk around. After a few minutes, instruct students to share their work with peers around them. Having students get to work and communicate right away sets an instant precedence that in your classroom, hard work and communication are key.
- Break the ice.
I know, I know. Icebreakers can be the absolute worst. But giving students opportunities to introduce themselves and build relationships is so important, and with a bit of planning, you can find some that work with your style. Choose activities that will empower their voices and build a safe classroom culture. Sprinkle them throughout the first week, and make sure you participate to help students feel connected with their new leader.
- Practice procedures.
Lining up. Sharpening pencils. Turning in papers. Our year-long sanity relies on a smoothly running classroom. Teach them and teach them well. How we communicate and practice our procedures is crucial to setting the tone for the year. Avoid reading solely from a PowerPoint or lecturing from your syllabus; instead, try setting up rotating stations for kids to learn routines, get moving, and interact with their new environment. And don’t stop there. Invest time in the first weeks to model procedures again and again.
- Find common ground.
Start off the school year by collaborating on belief statements and rules that you display prominently in the classroom. Discussing how students’ actions can reflect team statements like “We believe learning opens doors,” “When things are hard, our brains are growing,” and “Mistakes happen, and it’s OK” can impact how students see themselves and their role in the class.
Yep, on the first day. We’re not talking about a whole novel here; reading aloud from a picture book is great. Modeling a passion for reading points students down that same path.
The best thing you can do the first day? Send kids home excited to learn and confident that they can have a great school year. Lay the groundwork for a positive classroom culture from the start!