Wednesday, August 23, 2017

First Impressions #EdChat

I always think about this at the start of the school year. What is the first impression I want students to have of me that sets the tone of the whole year? I remember an old teacher adage about never letting students see you smile for the first few weeks of school. It easier to go from stern to kind than it is too kind to stern. These have always bugged me because it makes it seem like there are only two ways to interact with students.

Here are some things I have done that have helped me set the tone for the school year that have nothing to do with curriculum, but everything to do with relationships.

1. The First Five Minutes (Extended Version)

I've written about the First Five Minutes before and feel it is an amazing strategy for student engagement and community building in the classroom. The extended version of the First Five Minutes is just a longer chunk of time where the teacher just walks around and interacts with students and joins the conversations they are having. Sometimes, it is starting a conversation and seeing what students think of a particular topic. The one rule for the First Five Minutes is to avoid any content or curricular stuff unless the students bring it up. If they have questions about homework or something, save that for class time. If they want to talk about connections they made with the content on a personal level or they want to discuss how the content relates to the world around, that is awesome. Give students the freedom to discuss what matters to them and be engaged in their conversations. You want them to be engaged in your class, so engage them in their thoughts.

2. Ask Students What They Want To Learn

One of the things about a syllabus that has always bothered me is that it dictates to the students exactly what they are going to learn and how they are going to learn it. However, not every students is going to walk away with the same knowledge and others might feel overwhelmed seeing everything for an entire year planned out for them. How about asking the students to think about what they want to learn this year? Have them right it on the first page of their notebook, in their planner, or pass out notecards to write down their goals. Students need to feel some sense of ownership to their learning if they ware to truly engage. While the teacher will still cover the various aspects of the curriculum, the student can still have a focus of their own that can drive them to grow as a learner.

3. Start with Collaboration

If you want a classroom where students feel comfortable collaborating and making projects, it is smart to start off the year with a collaboration project. One of the first things I did in the Google Certified Innovator Academy a few years back was to try and build the tallest tower using marshmallows and pasta. It was a fun, silly, and challenging way to bring people together to solve a problem. People got to know one another and engage in conversations while building a tower of marshmallows. Another fun project is to use a BreakoutEDU kit to start the year. Have the students work together to solve puzzles and kick off the school year. Anything that brings the students together to let them know that the year will focus on relationships and collaboration is a great thing to have for the first day.

4. Greet Them and Send Them Off

Greet students at the start of class and send them off to their next class. Simple things like shaking hands, fist bumps, high fives, etc are a great way to make a connection with students. While some students will not think twice about the high five or hand shake, for some students, it might be the only positive physical contact they have had since the last time your greeted them or sent them on their way. Saying goodbye to students at the doorway is also a great way to recognize students in class that really stood out and participated or did something amazing. It's easy to forget to recognize students at the end of the class because teachers are so busy getting ready for the next thing, but these moments are perfect for making lasting connections and impressions on students.

These are just a few ways to engage students on the first day and throughout the school year. We need students to feel safe and welcomed in the classroom if we truly want them to engage. It the job of every teacher to make sure the students know they have someone in front of them that cares more about them than the work they are going to do. If a teacher can accomplish this, the are going to have an amazing year filled with fun and learning.

Please share any ways that you engage with students on the first day to make a great impression in the comments section below.

Hugs and High Fives,

NP