While the first weeks of school can seem like an act of survival every year, for those of you who are veterans in education, you know that the first weeks are critical to setting up a successful learning climate for the students. As you are well aware, it it much harder to backtrack or have students (and teachers) shift or change habits once they have set in.
As we think about the first month of school, I want to narrow in on a few things that if focused on first, will set up more efficient learning throughout the rest of the year.
First, we must focus on the relationship/connection with the students. We know this. The question is, are we setting up a system for doing it? While this can be difficult, intentionally setting aside time and activities for the sole purpose of connection will pay dividends as the year goes on. Giving students voice, gathering information on their interests, background, and learning styles, and giving yourself time to get to know them as the people they are will make more use of the academic time later down the road.
Procedures Based On Creating Independent Learners
Second, we want to teach and practice procedures based on time management and student responsibility. When we start thinking about the procedures we want to see on our campus and in our classroom, it can get really overwhelming. We can be tempted to make 25 different procedures and try to teach them all in the first week of school. This typically does a number of things:
- makes fidelity on the teacher’s part very difficult (who can remember all of those procedures every day?),
- makes none of the procedures memorable for students because there was too much information given at one time,
- creates an environment where the teacher is frustrated and the student is stressed because of unmet expectations.
Instead, choose only 1 or 2 procedures for the classroom that make the most of the learning time (unless safety is a factor, and then start with procedures that provide a safe environment). For example, you may want to teach a quiet signal to regain students’ attention quickly. You may want to teach a procedure for entering the classroom and getting started on academic work within 2-3 minutes.
As a responsive educator, which is the goal of The Responsive Classroom, we also want to create a climate where students can be independent learners. Creating a few procedures at the beginning of the year to help them move from dependent to independent learners is super effective. For example, you may teach a procedure for getting help, or solving their own problem (like needing a supply or turning in homework). Procedures that teach, promote and help students practice independence will translate into students becoming independent learners.
Then, as needed and as students master one procedure, add another procedure. Just remember, students will need time and the grace of repetition to create the new procedure as a habit!
Planning with Alignment
Third, we must start at the beginning of the year planning with alignment, even if we don’t feel like the students are where we want them to be. From the very beginning, teachers need to have a very clear learning target each day that students should be trying to hit. When teachers plan with the grade level learning target clearly in their mind, as well as a tangible way that the students are going to show if they learned it, it will become much easier to also plan the scaffolds needed to get the students there.
If, on the other hand, we start the habit of planning by activities or by assumptions of where the students seem to be, there’s a good chance we will start the year inadvertently increasing the achievement gap.
At The Responsive Classroom, we’d love to help you with any of these things and more! Our goal is to equip teachers to build independent learners and watch their students thrive! Click here to get more info!