Secret to a Sweet First Day - Blog


Someone who is reading this
right now is trying to figure out how he will make it from room 123 to
room 207, with a cart, using the “it-only-works-sometimes”’ elevator.
Someone else is trying to move her entire classroom in a day due to a
last-minute change. Others of you might be stressed and doubting
whether you have time to read this because you now are teaching a new
grade level—or subject. Don’t get me wrong. These are absolutely worth
planning and strategizing over—I’ve been there for every one of these
scenarios. However, let me point out something you already know:
Students don’t really care about any of those things. They care about
you and how you make them feel. They want you—and their classmates—to
like them. They care about not feeling alone, scared or threatened.
They care about knowing where they are going, who they are sitting with
and not wanting to be embarrassed. In short: They care about
themselves. And, developmentally, they can’t help it. So, as educators,
it is our job to acknowledge these needs, and let the content and
curriculum make its appearance only after everyone has had a chance to
let out that collective sigh of relief that all is right with their

If you think this all sounds a little touchy-feely, you’d be
right. And, confession time, I haven’t always paid as much attention to
this as I should. But now that I have kids of my own, and I’ve watched
them go to school, I realize that I had it all wrong. Neither of my
children ever came home and said, “You should have seen my teacher’s
lesson plans! They were a full month ahead.” Nope. They never said,
“She walked in a minute after the bell rang.” Nope. Here’s what I’ve
heard: “She was so funny. We tried to balance cups on our heads.” And,
“She had this trick to remember all our names!”

Luckily, there are teachers out there who are simply amazing
at reeling the kids in, making them feel as if they are part of
something special from day one. My goal for this year is to wow my
students by creating a classroom vibe that doesn’t take them three
weeks to pick up on. I turned to my Share My Lesson friends and found
my plan. I’ll tell you about it, but it is well-worth searching around
for your own plan.

I found my inspiration with Share My Lesson's content partner,
. Initially, I found an activity that would help my
students learn how to identify with one another. Like it or not,
students are not entirely there to hang on our every word. They are
much more interested in each other, and until we make that work, they
won’t give us much of their attention. The activity is called "Stand
Up, Sit Down,"
and it’s as simple as it sounds. Teachers
create a list of descriptors, such as “I am the youngest in my family”
and “My favorite color is blue” and “I walked to school today.” I’m
going to put these statements in a PowerPoint or create a Haiku Deck of
them. Students stand up if the statement applies to them, or sit down
if it doesn’t.

Clearly, the activity isn’t very sophisticated, but the lesson
plan makes it obvious that the power in the lesson is the debriefing
that follows. Students need to recognize that they share common
attributes and “fit in.” This will take about 10 minutes. I’ll be
teaching seventh- and eighth-graders, so they’ll catch on pretty
quickly. I imagine that elementary students would need more time to
process. Once my students are relaxed, I can move on to an activity to
build community. I usually have the students sit at tables; each table
becomes what I call a “resource team.”

The activity is also from Peace First, and it is to build a
Marshmallow Tower. I found this activity on the organization’s Tip
. This one is also pretty simple, but the teamwork
involved with the resource groups will set the tone for the rest of the
year. Each group will be given 40 marshmallows, a paper plate and 20
toothpicks. The goal? Create the tallest freestanding structure in 10
minutes. We’ll measure, and the winning team will receive a small
prize, which is usually letting the winners leave class 30 seconds to a
minute earlier than everyone else. Believe it or not, this is a huge
motivator. As I said, they really are there to see each other, and
that’s about the extent of my bribery. (I know. I’m a rebel.)

Like the other activity, this is an important situation to
debrief. What went well? What failed? Did the first attempt work? Did
the group assign a leader? How did members of the group work together?
Or, did they not work together? These conversations lay the foundation
for excellent teamwork all year. The activities are engaging, fun and
student-centered. The content and curriculum will be there the second
week of school; and, if I play this right, I’ll still have the
students’ attention then, too.

If you are feeling that this is a little too broad, or if you
are a new teacher needing more directions, check out the American
Federation of Teachers Classroom
Management Tip Sheet
. It will help you prepare for that big
first day. And don’t forget—all the kids want is for you to like them
and make them feel comfortable in your classroom.