The transition into class can feel hectic and disorienting for students, especially if they are coming from an unstructured time like lunch or recess, if they struggle to stay organized during transitions, or if they're just having an off day. The thresholding strategy has teachers stand in the doorway of their classroom to greet students, build relationships, and provide consistency by reminding students of expectations and what they need to do to be ready for class. While each teacher should be themselves and authentic when interacting with students, this strategy will provide some tips for how to quickly connect with students and set them up for success at the start of class. This will help students feel recognized and message to them that their presence and participation in class is valued.
A few minutes before class begins, position yourself right by the doorway of your classroom so that students will pass you as they enter. It can be tempting to use this time to straighten up your classroom and focus on getting everything ready, but push yourself to keep this time sacred to greet students.
Consider what your focus areas will be as students enter the classroom. You should be yourself and be authentic! Your goals as students enter are to humanize the transition period by building relationships and providing consistency as well as providing helpful reminders to students who struggle with the chaotic nature of transitions to allow them to be prepared and ready for the start of class.
Consider identifying both academic and non-academic ways to check in with students as they enter. For example:
Academic check-ins and reminders - these help you remind students what they need to do to be successful in class that day:
"Do you have your book/calculator/homework folder/pencil?"
"The bell is going to ring in two minutes, make sure you're in your seat and starting the activity when it rings!"
"Today we're working on our group projects, so make sure you sit with your group."
"Your homework last night was so strong! I'm impressed by how much effort you put into it."
"You were such a supportive partner yesterday; I can't wait to see you do that again today!"
Non-academic check-ins and reminders - these help you establish a personal connection through a brief personal connection:
"How was your basketball game last night?"
"How was lunch today?"
"How are you feeling? I'm excited to see you back to your usual energy today!"
As students enter, greet each student with their name and either an academic or non-academic check-in. As you greet each student, you are signaling to them that you value their presence in your class and are excited to work with them. When students feel valued and respected, your classroom will feel more positive and productive.
Some teachers like to shake hands or high five with students as they enter (or even invent fun handshakes with students), but it is up to you what you would like your greetings to look like.
As you get to know your students, your threshold greetings will begin to give you some additional information about your students' headspace. You may notice a student coming in with a lot of extra energy, in which case you could prioritize helping them get on task at the start of class. You may also notice a student who seems upset as they enter, and you can make a note to check in with them privately during an appropriate moment of class.
It's not always an option to stand in the door before class. However, other "unstructured" times of the school day can provide a great opportunity to connect with individual students and check-in about academic or non-academic items.
Identify times in the school day when you might be able to check in 1:1 with students. For example, this could be during arrival, at mealtimes, at dismissal, or during study halls or free periods.
Because you won't feel the pressure to rush to start class, these less structured times give you the opportunity to stop and have a real chat with students who need that connection the most.
Join students in that space. Move around the space and say hello to students, using academic or non-academic questions to signal that you notice them, care about them, and want them to be successful.
It is important to start class by connecting with your students on a personal level, be that greeting them at the door or asking them questions before the lesson to ensure they know their well-being is as important to you as their learning. In the virtual space, build in time to greet students before getting started.
If students are working asynchronously, consider sending home a weekly letter or sending a morning email that students can read during their own time to greet students, continue building relationships, and to set the tone for the day.
Determine how you will greet students to start class in distance learning.
Some programs, such as Zoom, allow you to slowly let learners enter the classroom which makes this easier. As students enter the room, greet each student by name. See the tutorial in the resource section below for information on how to enable waiting rooms in Zoom.
If you are unable to host a video call with all learners, consider using a daily video. You could go live on Facebook or Instagram to “greet” your students daily at the same time. You could also create a screencast using a tool such as Zoom, Screencastify, or Flipgrid and post it daily on your LMS (Google Classroom, Edmodo, Seesaw, Canvas, etc.)
If students are working asynchronously, consider sending a message or video using your LMS, digital tools, or sending a weekly letter.
When you greet students, have students greet you back. Consider asking students a non-academic question as you greet them to get the conversation started.
Consider using this strategy, in combination with an ice-breaker to start your sessions. See the “Emoji Wheel for Connections” strategy in the BetterLesson Lab or the resource of ice-breaker ideas in the resource section below.
If students are working asynchronously, create and share your letter/email/video in order to continue building connections and to set the stage for learning.
If you have a LMS, consider sharing your letter or video through the LMS daily or weekly.
Consider gathering feedback from students about what they like or do not like and iterating on these communications moving forward.
For some students, connecting via conversation or in a public setting can be challenging. These students might benefit from a more private type of relationship-building: a personalized note.
Decide which student(s) you want to write a note to and why. You might choose to write a note to a student after they have a difficult day, do well on a task or assignment, show growth in an area they are working on, go through something outside of the classroom that is challenging, do something kind or generous, or are particularly stressed or worried about an upcoming assessment.
Write a note to the student. Consider writing just a few sentences. If you have a small notecard, index card, or a post-it note, you could use that; otherwise, just fold a piece of paper into quarters and use it as a card.
In your note, especially if you are praising positive behavior, be specific. For example, instead of writing, "Good job on your work today!," call out a specific action that the student took. For example, write something like, "I noticed that during choice book reading time today you selected a book that was challenging for you, and then you read it independently. I really admire your determination and perseverance." Specific, growth-oriented praise helps students identify actions that they can repeat in the future for success.
See the resources section below for a variety of example notes you could write to students.
Deliver the note to the student. In some cases, you may want to hand-deliver it when they enter the classroom; in other cases, you can leave it on their desk or taped to their locker, if you think they would respond better to a more private show of encouragement.
Using thresholding to greet students, build relationships, and provide consistency by reminding students of expectations is a foundational tool teachers can use to better support all students with disabilities to become more engaged participants in their learning. In order to plan effectively to use thresholding to support students with disabilities, consider the following modifications:
This strategy allows teachers to set the tone for academic learning to commence. Learners are afforded the individual attention and accountability for learning that sets the stage for a productive lesson.
English learners need to listen and respond when greeting learning facilitators. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:
Ensure learners understand their individual greeting and know how to respond. Transitions by nature need to move quickly. Make sure learners comprehend your message to them by keeping your language simple, short, audible, and clear. Give learners time to devise a response if necessary or model for them a response.