My Own Secret Strategy For The First Day Of School
Okay, so there is a strategy I’ve been using every first day of school that I can remember.
I’ve never written about it.
But lately I’ve been sharing it with my coaching clients. It seems to resonate with them. As I explain it, I can see their mind turning before a smile slowly overtakes their face.
The strategy, which takes just a few seconds, sends a powerful message to your new students. It gets to the quick, ending any doubt about whether you’re a teacher who will do what you say you will.
Or be a pushover like so many others.
It’s a bit sneaky and may need adjusting according to your grade level, but it effectively eliminates the testing phase whereby students push and probe to find the limits of your patience.
To be most effective, you’ll want to use the strategy within the first few minutes of the first day of school (or period of a new class).
The way it works is that after greeting your students for the first time, and before sharing anything about being in your classroom, you’re going to casually mention one rule and what will happen if that rule is broken.
For elementary students I recommend asking them to stay silent while you’re talking. This can also work for middle school.
“For the next 20 minutes I’m going to cover some important information. Please listen and stay quiet until I’m finished, at which time you may ask questions. If you can’t do that, then you’ll have to sit separately from the class until I’m finished.”
Note: You must set aside desks, tables, or work stations for this purpose.
High school students, however, tend to stay quiet in the beginning. And what we want, oddly, is for this rule to be broken as soon as possible.
So for high-schoolers I recommend asking them to keep their phones out of sight and letting them know that you’ll take them away if you see them.
The idea, the whole purpose of the strategy, is to show you mean what you say. In other words, and again, you want someone to break the rule.
And as long as you’re casual and friendly during your greeting, someone will—which gives you an opportunity to calmly and confidently ask them to move or stroll over to take away their phone.
Now, it’s important that you do this after a long pause, and be sure to take your time. You want every student to see you doing what you said without showing any anger or frustration.
In a sense you’re modeling how you’ll handle all misbehavior in the future.
Furthermore, because no other teacher does this—after all, who in their right mind would hold someone accountable in the first few minutes—it says volumes about you and what you value.
It lets students know that being in your classroom is going to be a unique experience. Done right, the strategy is so powerful that it can knock two or three weeks off the trial and testing period and help you avoid ever losing control of your class.
It’s important to mention that you’ll still teach, model, and practice the rules and consequences that make up your classroom management plan. They may even look different than this first rule—which is only temporary.
It’s just for getting through your introduction, initial routines, and teaching your plan.
It simultaneously gives you the attentive group you need to lay the groundwork for your program and sends the message that you can be trusted.
I realize that this article may prompt questions about phones and time-outs among other things. Rest assured, we’ve got you covered. Please check out the links within the article or type a query into the Search box at the top of the page.
You can also check out one or more of our books.
As for the strategy, it may not be for everyone. But if you have the confidence to pull it off, it can jump-start your school year in a big way.
It can draw your students into form quickly so you can get on with the business of teaching content and creating a classroom they love being part of. Just be sure that when you follow though, do it kindly and ignore any sniggering or surprised reactions from students.
Smile, do what you say, and they’ll respect and appreciate you right from the get-go.
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