The First Day of School
With my fifteenth year of teaching looming on the horizon, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time this summer examining my personal teaching practice and whether or not what I do in the classroom is a true reflection of my core beliefs about teaching and learning. I was very happy to discern that in most ways, my practices and beliefs aligned very well (not that there isn’t always room for improvement!), but the one place I really saw a discrepancy was on the opening days of school.
Day one sets the tone for the rest of the year. This is when I will set expectations for my students about what I value in the classroom. I value student voices. I value engagement. I value creating a safe and authentic learning environment. I value collaboration. I value my students’ individual reader and writer identities. How does reviewing a syllabus or management plan show my students what I value? We have all suffered through the mind-numbing review of policies and procedures at the beginning of the school year. Should we put our students through the same experience?
Instead, on the first day of school I will greet my students at the door. When my students walk in, they will see books on every available shelf and surface and they will know that I value books and reading. My students and I will write together on the first day of school; I will model their writers’ notebooks as we answer two prompts: Describe yourself as a reader. Describe yourself as a writer. I will write with them under the document camera and they will see me make mistakes and changes to my own writing, letting them know that this classroom is a safe environment for mistakes and risk-taking. We will talk afterwards about our expectations for the year and how they align with who we are as readers and writers. We will end the class with students sharing their favorite sentence, phrase, or word they wrote today; the same way we will end class every day.
The syllabus and classroom guidelines will come in the next few days at a time that fits organically with our instruction. I do value an organized classroom and a structured routine and my students need to know that these things are important; they just aren’t the most important.