Back To School, or How To Open The Door To A New Year

Life is all about first impressions and studies show that people size you up within milliseconds. After that they rarely change their minds about you. This quick judgement applies to first dates, job interviews, and the first day of school for teachers and students.

First Date vs. First Day

When trying to make a favorable first impression, the stakes are much higher for a teacher staring out at a classroom of 34 students than for a participant in the first date/small plate mating ritual at a wine bar.  If you show up late to your date with a stray chunk of spinach lodged between your two front teeth and your date is a stickler for timeliness and dental hygiene, they might immediately decide you're not their dream girl. Worst case scenario is you never see them again. However, if you stand in front of your students on the first day of school and immediately spill an entire large hot coffee on your blouse and then slip onto the floor, you are going to have to see those 34 students who think you're the Queen Spazz instead of Queen Bee for the next 10 months.  


I've been at my school for thirteen years, so many students often come in with a preset idea about me. Despite the fact that I can rest on the well worn laurels of my reputation as more of a Queen Bee than a Queen Spazz (for the most part!), I still can't help but to think about the power of my first impression to my new scholars on the first day of school.

You Have To Ask Yourself...Not Google

I started my search for how to make a strong first impression this year by perusing teacher and classroom Pinterest boards and Googling it. Then I realized that how you want to present yourself has to come from an authentic place. You can't just Google it. You have to ask yourself this question before you start deciding what to do on the first day:

 "What kind of teacher do I want to be for my students this year?"

By the way,  I say "this year" because I firmly believe that to be an effective teacher, one must approach each new year with a fresh perspective. Technology and studies on the most effective pedagogy are always changing and it is imperative that we inform ourselves. Then you can decide if it's a passing "fad" or a meaningful practice to incorporate into your teaching.

I want to play all the roles listed in the above image but I also want to ENGAGE my students in the learning process. I want to create a classroom that encourages students from Day 1 to take ownership of their learning and the flow of classroom operations. Sure, I am still going to lecture and create the unit plans, lessons, and activities but I want to be as transparent as possible with my students. I want them to feel involved and not just like recipients of learning. This won't only allow them to feel empowered but will provide them with skills that can transfer over to college and their careers. 

So, what kind of teacher do I want to be this year? A teacher that facilitates and manages my students' educational process but allows them as much ownership and independence as possible. This Chinese proverb sums up my teaching philosophy for this year:

I will open the door (with my content knowledge, my passion for social studies, and my enthusiasm for learning) but I will leave space for my students to enter the learning process on their own.

Here's my plan for how to make this happen:


I will start the first day by assigning classroom roles for each student. Each student will have a job so they will feel like a part of the class right away. I got this idea from Alan November. Check him out, he has a plethora of knowledge and ideas. I was lucky to see him speak twice!

Here's one way to do it:


I will share this video with my students so they realize that hard work (aka grit) actually pays off and might guarantee more success than a high IQ.

In this TED Talk she talks about how IQ isn't the only predictor of success. In fact, doing well in school and in life doesn't only depend on your ability to learn quickly and easily. Grit might determine success even more! I think this will motivate some students who might not be intrinsically academically strong to realize that hard work and smart studying can pay off.

--> Then I will have them take this GRIT SCALE test to determine their "grittiness".


I will also share with them that Cornell notes are NOT the only way to take notes.  

I have watched a lot about Sketch Notes this summer and I am going to share this video with my students. This is a fun new way to approach note taking that could engage my students who have a penchant for doodling:


Then I will give them their first assignment. A time capsule. Why? Because it will get them to actively create an historical set of documents. Then that will be the jumping off point to discuss primary and secondary sources and what historians do for a living.

-->Shout out to my friend Allyson Compton for this idea! In teaching, sharing is caring but you always have to give credit where credit is due!<--

They discovered Samuel Adams and Paul Revere's time capsule from 1795 this past January. I'll share this video with my students:

and then have them put together their own time capsule to share with the class. 

So that's my plan. Now I need to plan out the other trillions of seconds that will comprise the school year. At least I have the first  5,280,000 milliseconds mapped out (aka first days of school).

I'll let you know how it goes!


p.s. And maybe I can be as cool as the Dazed and Confused social studies teacher on the last day of school:


p.p.s.   Or, even better: