July 31

Inquiring Minds (Students) Want to Know…

On the first day of school students have so many things they want to know.  Some of them are heartfelt and of utmost importance… like who of their friends is in their home room or if P.E. is before lunch. Others are not quite so pressing… like what happens when I don’t turn in my homework or what are my responsibilities in this class.   Still, students are usually bursting with questions on the first day of school.  Just face it, students do have inquiring minds and an effective teacher will use that first day to begin acclimating the students.

The first day of school is new and fresh and shiny and holds eons of promise.  An effective teacher will utilize this fresh start, this new beginning as a time with a plan to guide students toward success.  Harry and Rosemary Wong profoundly state, “The first day of school is the most important day of the year.  There is only one first day of school and what you do can determine your success or failure for the entire year.  On this day the students form their first impression of you.”  So, think about it… what first impression do you want to project?

One researcher “video taped some teachers on their first day of school and discovered that those teachers who started with a fun activity spent the rest of the school year chasing after the students. Whereas, those teachers who spent some time during the first couple of days organizing the class so that everyone knew how the class was structured and managed had far fewer discipline problems and had students who were involved with learning (Wong).”

Here are some typical First-Day-of-School questions that really should be addressed:

1. Where am I supposed to be?

You might want to create an assigned seating chart immediately.  This can be done in many ways – alphabetically, randomly generated by a computer program, students could draw a color or number or even a playing card to determine their assigned place.  This quickly establishes the teacher as the person who is in charge and manages the classroom.  Yet, when students are allowed some choice – even when it is limited to the choosing of a number – they are generally appreciative that they have some input in the situation.

2. What are the teacher’s expectations?

No matter what you call them – rules, guidelines, expectations – students want to know their limits and boundaries in the classroom.  They want to behave and to succeed.  They will succeed – at meeting the expectations or at rebelling against them!  Effective teachers explain their classroom rules, guidelines, procedures, expectations and they share these with the parents of their students as well.  The class web page or blog is the perfect place to make this accessible for easy reference by students and their parents.  Just like Benjamin Franklin said, “Without a plan, you are planning to fail.”  Make your plan and stick to it! Effective teachers are flexible, of course, but they have a strong plan and they follow the plan consistently for continued success.  Authorities say that effective teachers manage their classrooms according to plan and ineffective teachers discipline, threaten, and punish.  Lay your expectations for classroom procedures out right from the beginning.  Don’t let it be a guessing game and the classroom will run farm more smoothly all year long.  Teaching and practicing procedures must start on the first day but cannot only be shared then.  This process takes several days – even weeks to create a well-oiled classroom that runs smoothly.  Make a plan.  Share the expectations.  Adhere to them.  Enjoy the year!

3. How will I earn my grade?

Grades are important – make no mistake.  However, an effective teacher conveys to the students that learning and understanding are far more valuable and important than the score recorded.  When students know what to expect, they are far more likely to achieve.  When the students know the teachers expectations and have clear explanations for how their performance will be scored, they are more likely to meet success.  From the beginning of the year, explain the grading procedure.  Let students know your expectations.  Model.  Provide them with checklists and rubrics for individual assignments.  When students have a clear picture, they can get closer to the target.

4. Let them know who you are.

Students don’t expect to know all the intimate details about you.  However, when students know a bit about their teacher, it humanizes him/her which lets the students make connections.  I always share a bit about myself and my family with my students to help them realize I am a person much like them and have a life much like them.  I think this helps them to make a connection to me and recognize that we can become a community of learners working together.  I even offer to let them ask me any questions they want answered.  Do I always provide personal and intimate details – NO!  Sometimes I will answer a question with a broad generality – like when they ask what is my favorite kind of music, I say, “loud!”  I’ve told them my favorite drink is cold or hot or something like that which is general as well.  When asked about some things I will simply answer, I don’t do that much and have no favorite.  There are always ways to be general without giving out too much personal information.  The most important thing I let them know is that I love my job and look forward to sharing my time with them!

5.  How will the teacher treat me and how am I expected to treat others?

Everybody wants to be treated with respect.  Students will respect teachers who are fair and treat them with respect.  Demonstrating your expectations, letting students see how you treat others, how you dress, what and how you share information, how you have your classroom arranged, how you organize your lessons – all shows how you treat others and how you expect them to treat you and others.  Students look for security, consistency, dignity, and knowledge.  The teacher is the gateway by sharing that with students.  Be the person you expect them to become and hold them to your expectations as they move in that direction.

Start the school year off well by alleviating problems and answering the key questions student want to know and the rest of the days of the school year will fall into place!

July 25

Getting Off to a Good Start

It is that time of year again.  Soon the school bells will be ringing and students will be entering classroom doors.  Believe it or not, that first day is probably the most important day of the school year.  You only get one chance to make a first impression!  What the teacher and students do on that first day can determine the success or failure of a classroom for the entire year.

According to some authorities, “teachers who spend some time during the first couple of days organizing the class so that everyone knows how the class is structured and managed have far fewer discipline problems and students who are involved with learning (Wong).”

What are some things the teacher can do to foster success?

1.  Share your passion.

Forget the myth, “Don’t smile before December.”  That isn’t the personality of a teacher.  Most of us entered this profession because we love sharing something we are passionate about with others.  When we are sharing a passion, we are happy, enthusiastic, and energetic.  Let your students see that passion.

2.  Put your best self forward.

Be the person you want your students (and their parents) to see.  Dress the part.  Act the part.  Do you want to be respected as a professional?  Look professional.  Be professional.  Marketing studies show that we only have seven seconds to create a positive impression.  So, appearance can be important to how you are perceived (whether we like it or not).   There are ways to achieve a professional look and not like a little old church lady and ways to achieve a casual appearance without looking like you just dashed in from doing yard work.  Mode of dress is important but so is behavior.  That first day, above all others, is the one when your behavior is observed most closely.  This is when you begin to develop trust, purpose for listening to what you have to say, belief that you mean what you say, and offer inspiration to your students (and their parents).

3. Be Prepared: The Small Stuff Can Be Big Stuff.

Think about moving throughout your school day and how you want it to flow smoothly.  How are you going to seat your students?  How are you going to communicate with parents?  Where are you going to post or store materials for absentees or tardy students?  How will you encourage students to get started and dismiss class?  What will ensure that your class is truly experiencing bell-to-bell instruction and not milling round the doorway before and after class time?  How and where should students submit late work?  Try to think of all this Small Stuff so that there isn’t any Big Stuff.  Since I work in a BYOT district, I always encourage the teachers with whom I work to utilize as many online resources as possible.  Create a Google Form InBox and link it to your class webpage.  Posting online shared documents instead of distributing hard copies provides for easy, real-time updates and revisions.  Online tools and documents offer constant, anywhere, anytime access without chance of losing the hard copy.

4. Share Your Expectations.

You might call this rules or norms or acceptable procedures – whatever you choose to call it, make sure you make them known and adhere to them on the first day.  Your students want to know what is expected of them and really do want to be successful on day one.  Whether you prefer creating all your parameters or allowing students to develop them with you, make that a part of your first day and consistently follow them through to the last day.

5. Be the Manager.

You wouldn’t turn your bank account over to your students (or their parents) and ask them to manage it!  Likewise, you should be the manager of your classroom from bell to bell.  Again, think through a typical day in your class.  Make sure you have an idea on how you and your students might handle different situations and stick to your plan.  Consistency is vital to the success of a year-long community of learners.  You and your students must learn to trust one another, be prepared to share your space and your ideas, and work as a cohesive learning community for a long time.  The first day plants the seed for the tree of knowledge that you grow together during the school year.

6. If You Fail to Plan, You are Planning to Fail.

The first day of school is a long one with teachers and students adjusting to being back in the classroom.  Plan ahead what will be accomplished during that day.  Just as Benjamin Franklin expressed so eloquently, without a plan, you are planning to fail.  Maybe you want to spend time sharing the rules, introducing routines, getting to know one another, beginning to build a community.  As a reading specialist, I always encourage using read-alouds and picture books to lead discussions about issues important to your classroom.  Make it a day to learn about your students and give your students a chance to learn about you.

7.  Let Them Know Who You Are.

You are not there to be friends with your students.  You are there to be their coach, guide, mentor, and teacher who encourages and supports their growth and knowledge.  However, don’t hesitate to let students know at least a little bit about you.  We tend to trust, respect, and be inspired by those with whom we are familiar yet still hold a bit of mystique.  Try to be that model for your students.


The first day of school ends and the rest of the school year lies ahead.  The first day of school—when you have your students’ rapt attention and when their minds are open and they’re eager to do well—is the one chance you have to get things right from the beginning.

Good luck getting off to a good start!

I borrowed and adapted ideas from these resources to compose this post:

You Only Get One “First Day of School”

There is Only One First Day of School

The Biggest First Day of School Mistake You Can Make

July 24

Learning a New Way to Document

Today is the first day of a series of days where I am the facilitator for training teachers to utilize the new electronic grade book system for our school district.  The workshops are called Train-the-Trainer sessions because two representatives from each school in the district are attending and learning all there is to know about the system and will return to their school and train the teachers in their building what they know.

Heavy learning.

These teachers are absorbing information and practicing what they learn.  They are taking notes, asking questions, and exploring options.  This is an interactive, hands-on workshop where teachers are getting an early look at a measurement tool.  It is probably one of the most important reporting tools the teachers will encounter in their building.

Important learning.

Hundreds of teachers in this district will soon be learning from their peers – the teachers who are here all day each day for the next few days.  They will learn how to document student performance and this documentation will be shared with the student, his/her parents, the school administrator, and fellow teachers.  The documentation becomes a permanent record for each student.

Crucial learning.

So, while this training is just sharing how to use a tool that is provided to house the files of information which document student performance, this information is that data which is used as a measuring stick for an untold number of reports.  Private, personal information is housed within the system as well as those almighty scores which document high stakes test performance.  Therefore, the use of the tool must be treated with greatest security measures.  The teachers in these sessions recognize the seriousness and importance of using this tool accurately, securely, and demonstrate that in their questions and comments.

Vital learning.

By listening to their questions, discussions with their partners, and looking over shoulders at notes, I’m already envisioning how these two representatives from each school might share their learning in their home schools.  I know that what they learn today will be something which fits their school community specifically.  I’ve seen the beginnings and seeds of multimedia presentations the partners are creating to guide their own training sessions with teachers at their schools. The teachers are familiar with their school community and peers.

Personalized learning.

Yet, knowing the information which has been stressed and the reminders which are shared, my glances at their notes show that these teachers recognize what has to be consistent across the district.  I also know that the main points stressed and reminded during the session will be the same from school to school across the district.  As we know, some things have to meet the same standards sort of like a tax return!  The teachers are familiar with their school community as well as district guidelines and focus that in their notes and discussions.

Standardized learning.

Amazingly, learning seems to be… learning… no matter who is the clientele.  The parameters and expectations seem to be similar no matter the classroom.  In this particular case, assessment will be a performance task (like our performance in any job setting) – how accurately, efficiently, and securely the mass of teachers across our district use this tool to report student progress and grades will become a part of the students’ educational file.  The teachers in each session recognize this and are hungry for all the information they might need before they go back to their schools to train their colleagues – asking questions and seeking more information.

Performance learning.

As I proofread this post before clicking that Publish key, I notice that learning is something that we all continue in our world of constant change.  We recognize the importance of the task at hand in order to perform as expected on a continual basis.  I cannot help but wonder if we approach each lesson we teach to students in our classroom is approached with the same serious nature and if we as teachers prepare each lesson with that in mind.  After all, those students sitting in our classroom will eventually be the mechanics, CEOs, clerks, nurses, legislators, food producers, and EMTs who respond to our emergencies in the future.  Are we planning our lessons to prepare students for such heavy, important, crucial, vital, personalized, standardized, performance learning that will benefit them in the future as productive citizens in our society?