The calendar flips to August, and the countdown begins; the “first day” is nearly here. For some, it already happened. When the day arrives, it starts with a good breakfast and putting on that “first-day outfit.” This look, for most, has been planned for weeks. Mom and Dad take the “first-day picture,” and soon the students will set foot in the classroom for the first day of a new year…then what? Your role as a teacher is to set the culture and tone of your classroom from minute one. It’s essential to make students feel welcomed and relaxed. They spend the majority of their day in the classroom, and the more you can do to make it feel welcoming, the better. Going back to school is an exciting time, and it’s essential teachers create a warm and welcoming culture until the day students walk out for summer break. But how? Here are a few low tech, and no tech, ideas I always like to recommend to staff on their first day:
Hopes and Dreams Padlet: As the new year begins, students have new or restored hopes and dreams; for the year, for themselves, for what the future brings. Padlet (padlet.com) is a tool where a teacher can create a digital pinboard that can be shared with students and families. Teachers can create and then email the unique Padlet link and families a link it, and they are on the page. Idea: Ask students what they “hope” for the year. The answers can give you a baseline for your planning and show students you value them as a part of the class. For example, you could start the year by displaying the “Board of HOPES” and have students share theirs to create a culture of togetherness. It may also inspire classmates to help each other reach their dreams.
Suggestion Padlet: Again, using Padlet, this time promote student voice in your planning. Idea: Ask students WHAT THEY want in the room. Even ask about the structure of centers or suggestions of books they want to read. Students are walking into YOUR room, but asking them for input in designing the space will give them a sense of belonging right from day one.
Share Your Story: Flipgrid (flipgrid.com) is a wonderful tool for collaborative video posting. Flipgrid is a social learning platform that enables teachers to pose questions and have students respond in a video. The idea is to build a “web” of dialogue in the classroom. Students can even respond to a student’s answer using video if you enable the feature as the teacher. Idea: You can have a welcome back grid introducing yourself so students know you and your story before entering your class. Part of your story could be: Why did you go into teaching? Where did you go to college? What are some of your favorite things? What DON’T you want to see in the classroom? Or just an inspirational message. Then ask your students to do the same with student conversation stories. You can start the year knowing your students, and they’ll know you.
GIF-Me: Anyone with a phone has either used, overused, or seen silly GIFs that make someone laugh or show excitement. GIFs are so popular that many students might even have a GIF keyboard on their phones. There are many free GIF sites on the web: http://picasion.com/ or http://gickr.com/. Idea: Pose a question to your students as they get ready to come back to school. It could be as straightforward as What is your back-to-school mood? Email the question to your students and/or students’ families depending on age, and ask them to send a GIF as their answer. Day one could be going through the GIF collection from the students. This is a fun way to start the year and get an inside look, without prying, at how your students are feeling.
Classroom Set-up Day: Taking the Padlet suggestion above one step further, you can send an invitation to students before the first day, inviting them to come in and help you set up the classroom. Let your students bring ideas or something from home, and build THEIR classroom. It never hurts to bring snacks and turn on some music. When you can take the time to plan and laugh together, you build a culture of collaborative learning.
“Drop-off Day”: The first day of school for many students begins with a heavy backpack full of supplies and an aching back. Their excitement to arrive may be more about dropping off their bags rather than meeting their teacher and classmates. Idea: Have a “drop-off day” where students can come in, see the class, and drop off materials or supplies. Allowing students to do this before the first day let’s them meet you, learn how to find their classroom, find their locker, if appropriate, and not be overwhelmed by a backpack full of supplies on the first day.
All of the above are suggestions for how teachers can make the students’ first day of school exciting and collaborative. Try any or all if you find them suitable for your own hopes and dreams for the year. That said, a must on the first day is to welcome students at the door, by name, and with a smile. Students want to know their teacher(s) is/are glad to see them and know who they are. This positive tone will set the stage for a joyous classroom and a feeling that it is THEIR learning space. Rob H. keeps it simple: “I shake every pupil’s hand, welcome them, repeating their name to the class, and share with them that I look forward to working with them, with a big smile.”