First Impressions: Meeting Students the First Day

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SWBAT sense their importance to me when they enter the classroom via the "red carpet."

Big Idea

Students develop community that improves learning when they feel valued by their teachers.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

It's the first day of school in a new year. This lesson describes how I create a welcoming atmosphere for students and the myriad turns I use in the lesson. It's a holiday, so that has influenced the day's activities. 

This lesson is lesson one of three in the unit In The Beginning: The First Three Days of School. 

In this lesson I 

  • Roll out the red carpet for students,
  • Show MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech,
  • Review the class guidelines handout.

Warm-Up: Rolling Out the Red Carpet

10 minutes

In his popular book Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess discusses the importance of establishing rapport with students and creating a safe and inviting classroom tone within the first three days of school. As a young teacher, I was told to appear stern and strict at the beginning of the year. I have since learned that I prefer to greet students with a smile on my face and excitement in my voice.

I want to make my students feel important, as though they are the stars on my classroom stage! That's why before students entered my classroom on the first day, I create an inviting space by literally rolling out a "red carpet" for students to walk on when they entered. 

To create a red-carpet effect, here's what I did:

1. Roll out the Red Carpet: I used red butcher paper and simply created a red carpet entry into the room.

2. Star Trek: I created a walk of stars w/ star cut-outs. I didn't need many to suggest there's something different about my classroom. 

As students enter the room:

1. I greet them by saying "hi, welcome" and by shaking their hands. 

2. Interview with the Stars: I give students the star treatment as I shake their hands by asking a simple question, such as, "What are you experiencing on your first day of school?" or "What's it like to be in the starring role as a senior at _______ (fill in the blank w/ your school name). 

3. I found pom-pom pens at the dollar store and used these to cheer for students as they entered. 

The image for this lesson shows a colleague standing on my "red carpet." 

In the Resource section is a link to Dave Burgess discussing why rapport with students is so important and how to create it. 

What's important here is knowing that classroom atmosphere matters. Make the room a place where students want to be rather than avoid. This yea I made a red carpet, but the effect doesn't have to be literal. It can be something as simple as a note on the board or a few words of welcome. Don't be afraid to smile and wave at students. The best classroom management results from being well organized, avoiding big chunks of unused time at the end of the period, and being honest about what you know and don't know. In the early years of my teaching, when a student asked a question I didn't know the answer to, I simply said one of two things: 1. Let me write that down, and I'll get back to you; 2. We don't have time to delve into that today, so is it okay if we talk about it tomorrow? A variation is, "Let me think about that for a while. I'm not ready to commit to a response just yet." 

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of MLK's "I Have a Dream" Speech

25 minutes

The first day of school this year is unusual in that it's the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'sI Have a Dream Speech and the March on Washington. Normally, I plan a community-building activity, but such an occasion as the golden anniversary of King's iconic speech virtually demands attention be paid. 

Consequently, rather than the activity I had planned, I tell students that I'm deviating from the norm so that we can watch the "I Have a Dream" speech. Surprisingly, only a few of my students have actually seen the speech. 

As I warmed up the projector, one student exclaimed, "It's all in black and white." I began thinking about the speech as far removed from my students and mentioned to them that our perspectives may differ because I was alive at the time King gave his speech.

Before playing the speech, I told students that I simply wanted them to listen and watch and that we'd talk about the speech afterwards. 


Great Expectations: Class Guidelines Handout

20 minutes

After watching King's speech, I moved on to the class guidelines. I had hoped for a lively discussion of the speech, but that didn't happen. I decided to let it go and pass out the course handout. 

My school and district have many "rules," mostly consisting of warnings and what not to do imperatives. Over the years, I've learned that enforcement can be inconsistent. Thus, I don't give many rules. After taking a class based on Teaching with Love and Logic, my approach to classroom management changed significantly. Now I present choices and have two rules:

1. Choose kindness.

2. Show respect. 

The student handout Course Requirements talks about these. 

I spend as little time as possible going over the rules. I just don't like this part of teaching at all. And I can't always do everything I intend, so I take a "less is more" approach for most classes. The exception is the dual enrollment communication class I teach in our local university's Department of Rhetoric and Communication Studies. 

The bell rang a few minutes before I completed reading through the handout, so we finished the next day.