Don’t get me wrong, I love summer break as much as the next teacher, but there’s something about the first weeks of school that get me excited and looking forward to heading back to the classroom.
Maybe it’s the decorating. Or maybe it’s the fact that everything is so untouched and full of possibilities that keeps my mind working late at night. Either way, the first weeks of school undoubtedly set the foundation for the rest of the school year.
In fact, setting that foundation is so important that there are five things that should be done during the first week or two that will make all the difference. Are you doing them?
Five Things to Do During the First Two Weeks of School
1 – Teach Classroom Routine
Routine is so important when it comes to the first few weeks of school! Your students may have had carefree summer days where routines were lax, and rules were minimal. It’s important to teach them how to get back into a routine and model that for them. There is no such thing as posting the schedule to too many places or reminding them each class period of what will happen next.
Morning meeting and calendar time are excellent places to set the tone for the day and let students know about any disruptions to their normal routine. Establishing a routine will help students know what to expect and ease any back to school nerves.
If you need help with creating your classroom schedule, start here.
2 – Teach Procedures
Do you have a procedure for students needing to sharpen pencils? The first few weeks of school is the time to teach that. Bathroom trips, going to the nurse, handing work in, what to do if they are absent, putting materials and supplies away at the end of a lesson – all of those things come with a procedure and it’s important to teach them from the start. Remember, your students will need the procedures modeled frequently and will need time to practice them. Don’t expect perfection from the start; be patient with them and yourself!
3 – Establish Class Rules
In my classroom, we are all part of our micro-community. How we want to be treated and how we expect others to treat us are important conversations that must be had. It’s a good idea to have a few non-negotiable rules, but don’t hesitate to let your students come up with some of their own to add to the list. Make sure everyone is in agreement before a rule gets added to the class’ expectations.
4 – Perform Baseline Assessments
Knowing where your students are helps you determine how to get them to where they need to be. In order to do that, you must perform baseline assessments to determine their current levels. Make these as fun and non-threatening as possible. Students will already be anxious about being back in school and presenting a test right away can throw them for a loop. Be creative and compassionate about how the assessments are done.
5 – Smile and Laugh – A LOT!
Students need to know that your classroom is the safest spot in the whole school for them. They need to know that when they walk in your classroom they are loved, respected, and safe. When you greet them with smiles and encourage laughter you’re giving them a space where they know they can relax and focus on learning.
I once had a colleague tell me that I smiled and laughed too much at the beginning of the year – that I should be firmer and less approachable. While I agree that you need to set definite boundaries and expectations at the beginning of the year, I also believe that my students need to understand that I will always have their backs and will be the safe space they need.
There’s a fine line to walk there, but I believe smiles and laughter must play a part in the first few weeks of school.
Whether it’s your first year teaching or your thirtieth, each year is a chance to start anew and make a difference. Smile, take a deep breath, and have a terrific school year!