The First Month
So we've talked about the first day of school and the first week of school. Now let's talk about how to maintain this awesomeness the whole first month of school.
Keep up the before-class greetings.
Continue to greet your students at the door each and every day. Don't make this a rote activity that you do blindly. Be mindful of each brief contact you make with each student. Remember to keep noticing them as individual people with needs, feelings, and fears. Time spent here will pay off in large dividends throughout the year as you and your students develop a true connection.
Continue to greet the class.
Continue to greet the class with a heartfelt greeting. Remember to change it up so students learn a range of greetings. Be sure to have a smile on your face and that you actually mean, "welcome to my class!" Kids know when you're faking it. Again, this may seem simple and irrelevant, but it's part of that relationship-building that is so important. And if your personality allows, exaggerate this greeting. I yell it loud and proud and if my kids don't respond just as loudly, I do it again even louder. I want to energize them for class and let them know that although this is a serious class, we can have some fun, too.
Once you've greeted your students, continue to do your administrative and attendance tasks as the students work on their warm up. Don't forget to give them a meaningful activity to start each class. Routines are more important than rules in establishing an effective classroom-management program. You can always tell a classroom that is ruled more with rules than with routines. Those governed by rules more than routines can never be autonomous. If you have to step out of the room for a moment, micro chaos is likely to break out in classrooms managed by rules rather than by routines. If you have a routine for what to do when you step out of the room for a moment, kids will know what to do, follow the routine, and chaos, no matter how small, will be avoided.
Keep on engaging.
Just like the first day and the first week, you will continue to engage students in conversations. Whether they be about activities they like to do, fears, what makes them awesome or different, or "what would they do if...", these conversations are important and need to be had with each of your students. This can take a month or more, but is well worth the time. Relationships built at the beginning of the year and maintained throughout the year show students that they are valued in your class.
- Quickly review student info from previous day.
- Choose new student.
- Make statement about student's activity, fear, etc.
- Ask questions to student about their activity, fear, etc.
- Repeat information back to class and ask scaffolded, differentiated questions about information.
- Go back and ask more questions to student (think at least 3 details, slowly spiraling out from their initial statement).
- Repeat new information to class and ask scaffolded, differentiated questions about that information.
- Spend about 10-15 minutes with each student before going on to new student.
- Same process with new student.
- Compare and contrast students.
- Wrap up class with a comprehension check and/or a short class reflection.
- Tell your students how AWESOME they were.
This is the crux of your instruction for the first month as you build those key relationships with your students.
Classroom management, rules, and procedures.
For the first week we avoided any talk about classroom management, rules, and procedures with your students. You addressed any issues that may have arisen, but you never explained. Now we will start explaining.
It's important when talking about expectations, rules, and procedures in your classroom that you do it slowly and that you "teach" them just like any other lesson you would have in your classroom. It's also important that you don't teach them all at the same time—doing so will ensure that students will forget.
You'll want to spread this process out over the next several weeks. Spend only 5-7 minutes total per day on any of these tasks.
Read more about classroom management here.
Start by explaining your expectations for behavior. You might think, especially in high-school, that students know how to behave after being in school for 8 or more years. But you would be wrong. Yes, they know how to behave, but they won't do so automatically. They test out every teacher, every year. You need to establish your expectations for behavior and be consistent. That is the hardest part. You need to hold yourself as well as your students to high expectations.
Whenever going over your expectations, you need to practice the behaviors that don't meet the expectations and the appropriate consequences. Have a student act out the misbehavior and you act out what you would do in that instance and how you would give the consequence. You'll need to practice these throughout the year, but more so in the beginning.
Rules are important, but shouldn't be the basis of your management plan. Expectations are the foundation and rules enforce the expectations. It's important not to have too many rules and to write them as much as possible in a positive way. Here are my rules:
1. It's not okay to talk to your neighbors.
2. Listen with your ears and your eyes.
3. Don't sink! Ask questions!
4. Make smart choices.
5. Keep Profe happy.
Notice that I have a relatively short list, they're mostly expressed positively, and the last two are catch-alls that cover anything a student might think of doing in your class.
Again, just like with the expectations, we must talk about them and practice them. I take one a day to have the students actively practice and then sporadically practice them throughout the year whenever students need a reminder (mostly after breaks!).
Lastly, and most importantly are the procedures. A well-oiled classroom cannot exist without high expectations and specific procedures to back them up.
Students need to know how to do everything in your classroom. Think of procedures as the "rules of the road" in your classroom. Every simple task you'll ask your students to do throughout the school year needs a specific procedure so that kids can execute it accurately on autopilot.
Procedures range from how to enter the classroom, to how to pass in papers, ask permission to go to the bathroom, what to do when they finish an assessment early, what to do when a guest enters your room, what to do when you have to step out of the classroom for a moment, what to do leave class and so many more.
Don't teach all of your procedures all at once. Teach them as they come up and teach them thoroughly. You'll have to practice them over a period of many days and reinforce them as the year moves on.
It will take a lot of time to do this, but time spent doing this in the beginning of the year, will save hours throughout the school year as you won't have to repeat your instructions over and over again, remind students what to do each and every time they do an activity, and deal with issues arising from not following established procedures.
Rest of class information.
Just like expectations, rules, and procedures, you'll spread your class information—your grading policy, your required materials, any other info specific to your classroom—over a period of a few weeks in 5-7-minute commercial breaks.
Spend too much time on this information and your students will bore easily. Have it written down for easy reference, but do take a few minutes each day to cover one or two items.
Here's a copy of my classroom information that I give out to students.
Technically part of classroom management, classroom jobs are a lifesaver and a time-saver. I love how Bryce Hedstrom describes classroom jobs, "Any minimum-wage job that you do in your classroom that can be delegated to a student." He continues that we don't want to waste our time and our education on doing the menial tasks that kids can do and will be happy to do.
Some examples: door opener, light manager, desk/chair organizers, paper passer-outers/collectors, hospitality manager, timer, classroom expert, etc.
You can check out Bryce's website for his list and my resources for my current list.
My list frequently changes. Some jobs go over well one year, but not the next. I think something would be a good job and it turns out it doesn't work for my classroom. I suggest that you make a list of jobs you think you might need and try them. If they work out for you and your kids, then keep them. If not, toss them.
In my classroom, there are not enough jobs for everyone, so it's first-come-first-serve and my students are paid a monthly "salary" of participation points that can be used to purchase classroom privileges.
So there you have the first month of school laid out for you. Here's our final installment on how to keep it awesome all year long.
What do you do the first month of school? Share it with us in the comments below!
If you missed any of our other articles in this Start-the-Year Series, be sure to check them out: