You’ve heard it said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I would propose this addition: “Except in teaching!” Of course, we know the first moments of the first day of school are critical to establishing a tone for the year ahead, and we put a lot of energy into those first moments. It’s always fun to prepare our classrooms for the new school year because we are full of renewed hopes and dreams.
One of the best things about teaching is having a fresh start each year, and all of that effort at preparation is important; we don’t want to leave those first impressions to chance. But isn’t it also true that we can all benefit from the reassurance of second chances? Greetings are an important part of setting the tone, and I like to think that, as teachers, we get a chance to make a first impression each day. Let's take a moment to consider the impact of having that approach with our students, not only at the beginning of a new school year, but also at the beginning of each school day.
CLASS is all about understanding the importance of teacher-student interactions. Regardless of age or grade level, the students in our classroom all communicate to us about their needs through their behaviors, and it is our responsibility to respond in ways that meet those needs. One way to understand the CLASS Domains on a very practical level is to look at what we communicate to students when we interact with them as we meet their needs.
As we anticipate their arrival each day, we prepare ourselves to communicate “I’m here for you,” and “I make plans for you,” from the moment the students enter the classroom door. Each day is a new chance to communicate those messages to them. Whether it’s the first day of school or the 101st day of school, greeting students with those messages in mind will firmly establish for everyone the importance of both the relationship and the intention of being there together.
Leaving behind the events of the morning, or yesterday, and allowing the students (and yourself) to have a fresh start each day allows us to cultivate hope and optimism in our classrooms. Hope and optimism allow students to have minds open for insight, learning and possibility, and a willingness to try new and challenging tasks.
Here are some everyday ways to show students, “I’m here for you” and “I make plans for you.”
Have things ready for the students to do without your assistance so you can greet them and give them individual attention as they arrive. Set up engaging provocations on tables and in centers with high-interest materials you know they will enjoy, especially if you work in a setting with younger students and they are having difficulty separating. For older students, be ready before the bell rings so that you can greet them as they arrive, instead of putting the finishing touches on your preparations for the day.
These kinds of routines establish trust and a feeling of safety in the classroom. When students know there are specific jobs to do when they arrive (taking care of personal belongings, washing hands, checking in, making lunch choices) they quickly get into the flow of the day. Special things they do with you—a secret handshake, greeting song or poem, an interesting quote or thought-provoking question/image on the board to spark discussion—allow them to re-establish connections with you and set the tone for the day. These types of activities are especially important for students who have connection deficits in their lives and relationships outside of school.
Pause and connect
Even older students who change classes throughout the day can benefit from time to pause and connect about how their day is going when they arrive in your classroom. They may need time to decompress from a stressful morning at home or a challenging test in an earlier class. They may want to take a few moments to talk about things happening in the world and they may not have another adult willing to take the time to hear their perspectives on things. These few moments don’t need to drag on and take away from the other content you need to cover that day. In fact, a few moments to pause and connect will likely help them to shift gears and be ready to take on the new material you have prepared.
With younger students you can be seated in a chair at their level, and with older students you can be standing, ready, and welcoming them in. Greeting them with a big smile and an, "I'm so glad you're here today!" at their level communicates warmth and respect. This is especially important for students who had a rough day the day before. They may need a fresh start!
In many settings, parents drop off and pick up their children directly from our care. In these situations, communicate to parents at the beginning of the year (and each morning) that you have a moment to chat and check-in. However, if they need to have a more involved conversation you'll want to give them your full attention. Make sure parents have other ways to communicate with you—a personal communication log, email, sticky notes requesting a phone call later with a good time to call—and encourage them to use them! That way you can focus on greeting your students.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve interacted with teachers, coaches, and administrators as the “new” year begins for the adults and children in their care. What I am hearing has a common theme—frustration, disappointment, hope. What is going on? Well, maybe we can use the CLASS to think this through.
So, it’s June and you have just wrapped up the year with your students. They have made tremendous progress over the course of the year. The routine of the day flows naturally, the expectations about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior is fairly clear to all of them (and to you), and you leave the school year feeling confident that they are ready for the new challenges that lie ahead. You go into the summer months looking forward to a much needed break, but also looking forward to your new group of students in the fall.