The First Day of School Is Around the Corner
Your classroom is finished. Everything is carefully put away and your bulletin boards are decorated and ready. Back to school night was a success and you are ready for the new school year…. but what do you do first? Where do you start? Do you jump in with two feet and take data the first day? Where do you start with instruction? I’d challenge you to put a pause on all curriculum instruction and data collection for the first few weeks of school. It can be tempting to jump in right away, but chances are your students aren’t ready to learn yet. In fact, in my classroom there is very little traditional instruction those first few weeks. We focus on 3 things – Rules, Routines, & Reinforcement.
When I say rules, I really mean boundaries. Start your year off with the boundaries you want in place. Make these boundaries clear with staff and students. For example, one boundary I have in my classroom is that students can learn to sit on the carpet without sitting in an adult’s lap. My goal here is to get ready for inclusion and remaining age appropriate. Another boundary in my classroom is that students have to request to use the sensory table. Student’s aren’t allowed in ‘Koenig’s Corner’ where we keep the phone, computer, etc. We walk in the classroom. All off these expectations and boundaries have to be clearly set from the beginning. If you don’t set them right away, it will be harder for students to change their habits. Start the year off with clear boundaries and expectations. Use visuals to help make these expectations clear. I use necklace visuals to help provide visuals no matter where I am. In fact, I make a set for my whole team.
This falls right into place with boundaries and ‘rules’. Establish classroom routines within the first few weeks. Before students walk in your classroom, think through how you want them to enter, where to place their items, what they will do while they wait for class to start, how to line up. There are hundreds of routines built into the school day. To help cover and understand what is expected, I share our routines in Morning Meeting, then we practice them using these visuals. This gives my students and staff clear expectations of what I want for each routine. I keep visuals posted, too, in the location where the routine occurs. For example, our unpacking visual goes by the cubbies. Our lining up visual goes by the door to the classroom. Not only does this remind the students of the expectations and routines, it gives the support staff reminders as well. Additionally, any staff who comes in your room will know the routine.
This is probably the biggest piece of the back to school puzzle that teachers and staff miss. Sasha calls this ‘being the chocolate chip cookie’ (check out her Podcast on the topic here). We want to be reinforcing to our students and we want our classrooms to be reinforcing to our students. We want our students to WANT to come to school. We compete with xboxes and youtube and a million other things that are reinforcing for kids at home. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to create an environment where our students thrive. And this boils down to relationships. We have to make the effort to get to know and love each of the students in our care. We have to drop all of the preconceived ideas from other staff, let go of what happened in years past, and build an authentic relationship – and one that isn’t dependent on compliance. Don’t be afraid to get on the floor and play trains, or talk about a special interest. Learn what your students like and dislike. Make your classroom so engaging and reinforcing that your students don’t want to go home (even if it means you have to talk about minecraft for an hour!).
Changing The Focus
By changing your focus those first few weeks from data collection for a baseline and jumping into curriculum to establishing routines and relationships, you’ll set yourself up for a better year. You’ll find that you get farther and can accomplish more because those routines, rules, and reinforcement are established. Consider this an investment in your instruction later on. And once you have established these rules, routines and reinforcement, you can start dripping in baseline assessments and some curriculum. Before you know it, your classroom will be running full force.