You’ve likely noticed that your school may not be fully staffed, or that there is a shortage of qualified substitute teachers or other key personnel. Perhaps you’ve seen some changes in building procedures that make you a bit uneasy. There are a lot of things going on around us that we have no control over, but we do have control over how we respond and our choices to create a positive experience for ourselves and our students. What we do during the first few weeks of school, for ourselves and our students, can set the stage for the rest of the school year.
- Build relationships
The very first thing on your agenda should be getting to know your students. There really is nothing more important than building a strong relationship with your students. According to John C. Maxwell, bestselling author, coach and leadership speaker, “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Make sure you find out how to pronounce their name properly, believe me, it matters. Tell them a little about yourself the first day, your hobbies, your favorite books, anything you think will help them make a connection with you. Give them activities that will help you get to know more about them. Pair students up and ask them to create a presentation that highlights what they like to be called, something interesting about them, perhaps a hobby, or something unique about themselves, what’s their favorite place, book or something that interests them, and what’s something they would like to learn about. You could give a brief student survey. For younger students, you could ask them questions and indicate their answers on a chart. Whatever you do, get to know them, before you do anything.
- Be positive
Students pick up on your energy. If you are negative, your students will pick up on that and will be less likely to trust or like you. The old adage “you catch more flies with honey” is perfect here. Being a positive role model, and demonstrating optimism through positive speech and actions will go a long way in bringing a better attitude and results in the classroom. It will also help you to be more effective and be happy with teaching and in life.
- Establish clear expectations
It’s important to establish clear expectations for your classroom from the very beginning. Students want to know “what the plan is.” Define the processes for leaving the classroom, hallway, cafeteria, turning in assignments, etc. They also want to know what happens if they aren’t following expectations. Give students the opportunity to help set expectations and consequences where possible. Establishing behavior and other norms will go a long way toward creating a positive classroom environment rather than a “gotcha” kind of classroom. Give opportunities for role play and modeling so younger students understand what acceptable and unacceptable situations look like.
Set up lines of communication with parents/caregivers. Effective and timely communication builds understanding and trust and, in turn, establishes a pathway by which you and the student’s parents/caregivers can work together to support the child’s growth and learning.
- Be flexible – I call this the Gumby Principle of Teaching
You have to be able to flex and bend when something doesn’t go as planned or as you envisioned. Take a breath and move on, sometimes the things that didn’t go right end up being the best learning experiences for everyone, including you. If that means you totally scrap that lesson and move on, that’s okay, regroup and come at it a different way tomorrow. Seriously, don’t let it defeat you or ruin the rest of the day! Give yourself grace! Remember, you’re modeling how to handle things for your students.
- Reflect and highlight
At the end of every day, allow your students and yourself to reflect on the day. End the day or class period by allowing students to reflect on their learning. For older students ask them to jot down a question, something they learned or something they still wonder about on a sticky note and put it on the board as an exit ticket. For younger students, end the day with a community meeting and ask a few students what they learned or another open ended question to find out their thoughts about the day. After everyone is gone, take a few minutes to yourself to reflect on what went great and what didn’t and maybe jot some notes so you can make a lesson better. Always take a minute to highlight at least one good thing about your day and leave the day on a positive note.
Every school day may not be perfect. There will always be challenges, but how we handle them will determine whether we get bogged down in the negative or are able to find or create the positive in our own way. Make this a great year!
Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.