I am going to be real honest. For the past few years, I didn’t think much about the first day of school. Some years ago, I figured out a nice little first day of school routine and since then, I have gone into school, pulled out the first day of school file folder, copied what needed to be copied, pulled together what needed to be pulled together and then waited for the kids to arrive. And then they arrived and the first day always went well. Kids had fun, supplies got labeled, learning began, community was built and the kids left fairly excited for the year ahead.
And that always seemed to be good enough.
Because now, I am viewing the first day of school in a whole new way. Now I am seeing the first day of school as my chance to show my students what I want our year to be. On that first day of school, I want my students to know that their voices will be heard and valued in this classroom. I want my students to know that I believe in working together to create things that are better than anything any of us could have created on our own. I want my students to know that I will not pretend to have all the answers, but that I am happy to work alongside them to figure out answers together. I want my students to know that each of them is unique and wonderful and worthy of so much good in this world. I want my students to know that they matter in this classroom, that they have a say in how our classroom community will take shape, and that I want to be the kind of teacher that they need and want me to be. And I want my students to know that they matter outside of our classroom and that their voices have power in our world and that they are capable of doing such important work.
So if that is true, if I want my students to know those things from our first day together, then I have to create first day of school experiences that show them those things. It is not enough for me to tell my students that those are the things I believe. They are not dumb. I cannot tell them one thing and then provide experiences for them that send a completely different message. My actions, from the very first day of school, must match the claims that I make of what I want our classroom to be.
And so, my file folder got thrown out.
I started over. From scratch (for the most part). I took what I wanted my students to know and I created activities for them that I believed would show them those things. And it was hard. Really hard. Not to mention, it took a lot more time than all the years where I just opened the file folder, copied, and taught. And on top of all of that, I have no idea if any of this will work. These are not things that I have done for years, so they are scary. And that is hard. I don’t love the feeling of not knowing for certain that my first day of school activities will be winners.
But I do know this. I have put more thought into these first day of school plans, than I have put into any other first day of school. I was deliberate in planning activities that matched the beliefs I have formed for our classroom. And I believe, with my whole heart, that what I am asking the students to do from day one will set the kind of tone that I hope we will carry through the entire year.
Now I don’t want to bore anyone with the details of what I have planned for the first day. So I will simply give a quick list. Please stop reading now if you have no interest in this. I don’t blame you. I am not sure that I would, if I wasn’t the one writing it.
On day one, I see each of my two fifth grade classes for half the day. We also have some specials thrown in there on the first day. The time goes so quickly and I tend to way over plan and have to move many things to day two! But here is what I have so far:
Class Meeting — This will include some welcome speech that will be both inspiring and entertaining! We will then say our good mornings, with names, while looking each other in the eye. The students will then each be asked to come up with three words to describe who they are. We will end the meeting with a favorite activity (yes, from the file folder). I will ask the kids to close their eyes. I will walk around and put one of four different stickers in the middle of their forehead. When everyone has a sticker, I will ask them to open their eyes. No matter how hard they try, they will not be able to see what sticker they each have on their head. On a side note: in all the years I have done this, no child has ever just taken off the sticker and looked at it. I find this fascinating. Anyway, the kids will then have to get into groups with the other people who have the same sticker. But they must do it WITHOUT talking. It is lovely to watch. When they find their groups, I will hand them an iPad. I will have a Padlet up on the board with the following direction: Find 10 things that all members of your group have in common. They will post their answers to the Padlet board. We will then briefly talk about how we began the class meeting by sharing three words about ourselves that make us unique and wonderful and special. Then, we worked in groups to find things that we all had in common. Because we must recognize our differences and respect those differences while also remembering that there are so many things that we share and that we have in common and that bring us together.
Lego Boat Building — The students will then go back to the spots they have chosen for themselves at their tables. At their spots will be a bag of Legos. I will tell the students that their task will be to build a boat. The boat must actually be able to float. They can test their boats out in the tubs of water that I will have set up in the classroom. I will give them some time to work. After a while I will tell them that they can now combine their Lego pieces with the other people sitting at their tables to build one, bigger and better, boat of Legos. I purposely split up the Legos so that each individual bag will only have one or two big pieces so that there is no way that the boats they build alone will be as effective as what they can build when they combine their Legos with their group members’ Legos. We will then discuss the differences that occurred when building alone versus building with their group. Lesson being, when we work together we can build better boats! Well, better boats and other better things for this world.
A Small Bit of Boring — We must deal with some supplies (at least in the morning) because I have to send them to their other classroom with certain things. I am hoping to cut this down to fifteen minutes.
What Kind of Classroom Do You Want to Be a Part Of? — Instead of providing classroom rules or even classroom expectations, I will ask students this question. In order to respect those who think best in quiet, I will give them a few minutes to jot down some ideas individually. I will give them a two-column chart. On one side it will say, “I want to be a part of a classroom where the students…” and on the other side it will say, “I want to be a part of a classroom where the teacher…” I will give them some time to think. I will then have them get into groups of four (I am thinking I will have them get back into their sticker groups from earlier). I will ask them to share and combine their lists. I will then give each group a large piece of white paper and ask each group to find a way with pictures, or with words, or with whatever else they can think of, to show the class what kind of classroom their group wants to be a part of. If there is time, I will have each group present their classroom vision and ask the class to pay attention to the things that every group mentions. We will make a chart of these things and use them the next day to create one, large classroom vision to display on the walls of our classroom.
All About Me Bags — Again, this is a leftover from the file folder. I love it, though. It gives me a chance to share who I am outside of school and then to learn about who my students are outside of school. My teaching assistant and I will both share our “All About Me” bags. They are brown paper bags that contain objects that show and tell about who we are. As another side note, this is also when I have the chance to share with my students that I am gay. I include a picture of my wife and my daughter and it is an important part for me of starting off the year with my classes. There is much more to say on that, but I will save it for another day. After we present, I give the kids the assignment to create their own bags that they will share with the class over the next few days.
Our First Class Tweet — At the end of our time together on day one, I want to introduce my students to our classroom Twitter account. I will share a few thoughts on what we might be able to do with our Twitter account and then, as a class, we will do the important work of composing our very first class Tweet.
And that’s about it.
I cannot tell you how excited I am for our first day of school. The kids finally come on Wednesday. I am nervous AND I am excited. I don’t remember feeling quite this way about a first day of school in many years. It is somewhat terrifying to try so many new things, because what is nice about old things, and what makes us hold on so tightly, is that they are comfortable. They might not do exactly what we want, but we are often willing to forgive that because they are good enough and they are almost certain to go off without a hitch. And that is really comforting. And nice. And easy. But I have to believe that when I take a few steps outside of what I know, when I am willing to go outside of the comfort zone that has actually become quite confining, I have to believe that I am going to find something better than I have ever found before. For both me and my students.
I will let you know after Wednesday!