What 4 Fellow Teachers Are Planning for the First Days

As the beginning of each new school year approaches (or for some of you has already started!), we wanted to give you a peek at your fellow teachers’ plans for those first days back in the classroom. We’ve brought four teacher voices together below – see what teachers like you are trying, then share your own first-days approach in the comments!

I invite students to build origami boats.

Jason is a high school science teacher and instructional coach in Ontario.

On the first day of school, my first priority is building a safe and inclusive space. 

I used to focus on the administrative things and rules. Now it’s about building connections and creating a positive classroom culture. I want to build a sense of inquiry. 

I teach students to build origami boats without telling them why. I give them a handout of step-by-step instructions that includes both illustrations and words, and I ask them to fold it. After a first attempt, we break down the steps. We ask, “Which are confusing? Which could be clearer? Is there missing info?” 

We dissect the instructions as a lead-up to discussing class procedures.

The following day, we use the paper boats for an inquiry on buoyancy to showcase the scientific method.  

I started doing this because I wanted an activity that was accessible for all. The origami boats are engaging because they’re hands-on, they require easy-to-acquire materials, and after the first day, the students leave knowing something new, and they’re curious about what’s next.

A word of advice if you decide to try this: Figure out how to fold the boat on your own first – don’t let the first day of school be the day you learn, too!

I want to start with a culture of joy and connection.

Christina is a middle school English teacher in Hawaii.

In the first days of school, I want to build relationships with my students and help them begin relationships with each other. 

I start with a “speed-dating” system. Each pair of students gets a copy of the syllabus, and I have them switch a few times, asking one “get to know you question” – for example, “What was your favorite summer memory?” – and one question about the syllabus, such as, “How do you set up a meeting with Ms. Torres?” The students talk with each other, and I call on a few to share the “getting to know you” responses. I’m actually thinking of removing the syllabus questions for now, though, and only doing fun, culture-building stuff on the first day. 

I’ve really shifted away from heavy procedures and routines the first day. I feel like students are already overwhelmed, and it doesn’t sit right with the tone of my classroom. I want the focus to be on relationships first and routines much, much later. I want to build a culture of joy and connection early on.

I learn about my students as they play with Play-Doh.

Donnetta is an elementary school teacher in Texas. 

My approach to the first days of school has changed over the years, because I have worked with some great teachers throughout my career who have been willing to share ideas. I used to focus on routines and procedures only, but now I read aloud a lot, and I make sure students get to be creative in those first few days while I teach expectations.

One activity that works well for my students is playing with Play-Doh. They are simply allowed to play while I finish my required morning routines as students arrive to class. I take the time to ask what they are making. Sometimes, I learn something about the students’ likes that way. 

This year, I want to try using the “Find a Scholar who…” activity, in which students mingle and ask one another questions to find out what they have in common. I will make a chart of the data for the class, and it will remain displayed throughout the year. I’ll find ways to use the data later to group students and build community. I will try to do a similar activity after our winter break, as well.

I have learned that I can learn a lot from my students when I give them opportunities to share. I have discovered that Room 106 is not my room but OUR classroom. It’s important to let students help build the culture and community in the room. I will definitely do lots of that throughout the year. My goal on day one is to get to know each student’s name, have students learn about each other, and NOT lose a child!

I read my students a letter sharing what I want our classroom to feel like.

Monte is a high school English teacher in Washington.

A few years ago, I made some big changes in the way my classroom works, and I decided to start the school year reading a “dear learners” letter. Anytime we make big changes to the way we teach, communication is so important – not just with administrators and families, but with kids, too.

I have a fairly lengthy letter. It’s almost two pages long, and I really just talk with the kids about what I hope they discover. I think it’s important to set the stage for what I hope is the unique experience of a year in my classroom. 

We then do a questionnaire called “Meet me.” Kids select from various questions they can answer: It makes me happy when…, It makes me sad when…, I believe…, I don’t believe…, My favorite color is…. They share a number of things that help me get to know them, and the answers aren’t just for me. Some students share things aloud with the entire class. They begin to build community amongst each other, and we can begin to build some empathy.

Over the next four or five days of school, I share the “4 Rs” with kids: Our roles, routines, rights and responsibilities. I want to start by getting to know them, and by giving them a chance to get to know me and the type of community we can build together.

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