A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview one of our rising seniors as part of our XQRI grant process. It was a wonderful conversation that covered quite a bit about the student experience, grading and assessment, and things we could improve on.
At one point in the conversation, we spoke about students who struggle. Specifically, he spoke about students who might not be connected to SHS or may have some significant challenges that might impede their success. I asked the rising senior how we might create conditions that could better support or nurture a student as he described. His answer was interesting. He mentioned that on the first day of school most teachers go over the syllabus and review expectations. He said that students are expected to just fall in line with the syllabus. The student asked, “What if the teacher got to know us first, maybe take the time to learn about how we work as a student? Maybe then the syllabus could be adapted to the student’s needs.” The student continued, “We have kids working two jobs to support their families. I wonder if a teacher might look at a student a little differently if they knew that information.”
This answer really struck me. It got me wondering about the first few days of school and how teachers utilize that time. Are they taking the time to invest in building relationships? Are principals following the same concept? What might the impact be on an entire school year if we invested a little time at the beginning of the school year?
So I want to share a couple of resources that teachers and principals might find helpful to stimulate a conversation about the first three days.
- Utilize your PLN on Twitter. Check out the hashtag #First3Days. Many schools are sharing out examples happening in schools right now.
- Follow Case High School principal Brian McCann (@casehighprinc). He posted a blog on the NASSP website last year highlighting how Case High uses the first three days of school to set a positive culture.
- I came across a series of tweets from Angelina Murphy (@magicalmsmurphy) highlighting how she plans to start the school year with her students. I appreciate her willingness to share and I shared with my faculty. Here are the tweets.
- Instead of standing in front of the class and talking to (at?) students about the school year, I am changing to first day of school stations, which are more collaborative and more fun! Here is what we will do at each station:
- Station 1: Overview of Class and Syllabus. At this station, students will read through the syllabus (class routines, procedures, expectations) and units of study for the year, they can discuss what they are excited about and what they are still wondering about the class. There will also be a poster board at that station where students can write down any additional questions/concerns that they have, which will all be addressed at the end of class or more realistically with time constraints, the next day.
- Station 2: Introductions! Task 1: Using @Flipgrid students will record themselves saying their preferred name (first name, nickname, whatever they like to be called). This will be a tool for me as the teacher, so I can learn names (AND THEIR PROPER PRONUNCIATION!) quickly!
- Same station, task 2: Students will take an index card and write down the following: Name, pronouns, what they’re excited about, what they’re nervous about, anything else I should know. At this station, there will be a teacher example, with my name/pronouns/etc.
- Station 3: Name tents. Students are given paper and markers to create a name tent to put on their desks the first week or two of school so they can more easily learn their peers’ names. In addition to writing their names, they will also draw 3-5 symbols that represent them. These symbols can relate to hobbies, interests, beliefs, values, etc. After completing their name tent, if time permits, they will share what symbols they drew with other members in their group. We will do an activity surrounding these and identity later this week.
- Station 4: Community Agreements. As a group, students will come up with a list of community agreements. These agreements will answer the question: How can we create a safe & empowering learning environment? They are asked to be specific with what they need from their peers/teacher
- I’m hoping that adding a more interactive day will break up the monotony of the 1st day of school, & also give a more accurate introduction to the type of classroom we will have! I’m still making changes to these plans, but I wanted to share in case this was helpful for anyone else!
- At the end of class, each group will share their community agreements, and I will write them down on one collective poster paper. Before leaving, each student signs this poster, and this is on display for the rest of the school year!
As schools across the country prepare to go back to school in the coming weeks, I hope these resources are helpful and spark some positive dialogue within your district. I wish everyone the best as you start a new school year!