It is that time of year! School is starting! Whether you have already started your school year, or are looking forward to your start in a few weeks, the beginning of school is filled with excitement and anticipation. It is a time for first impressions, leaving our footprint on the tone for the remaining days. Whether you are an administrator or teacher, starting school on the “right foot” is essential, setting a positive and exciting vibe for the year ahead!
However, the worst part of the start of any school year is truly all the mundane tasks we and our students endure. Historically, it has been the laundry list of “what to do and not to do”.
My PLN reminded me of “the great” and “the ugly” in those first days of school. They brought it all back to life for me, having a very robust and interesting conversation, offering insights and fabulous ideas for change.
As a student…
I recall the first days of school as both a student and a teacher. As a student, I heard the rules countless times throughout the day. I even remember being given a quiz on the rules on the second day of school! To me and most students in the world, this is not interesting or motivating. I grew up to expect the first days of school to be full of tedious how-tos in everyone’s classroom. It is how it was done. While rules and procedures are important, I was bored with them, pulling the enthusiasm straight out of my mind and body because of what teacher didn’t want me to do. All of my teachers were great teachers too, but they were following the trend of the past.
As a teacher…
The funny part of this is then I became that teacher! What I hated most about school – those first few days of boring lectures and rules – I ended up doing the same thing to my students. I created documents of rules and procedures, going through them, almost losing my voice because I talked too much. I plastered this throughout the classroom as a constant reminder of my expectations and rules. I became what I disliked most.
Until one day, I decided to change. Just because “this is how I grew up and the way my neighbor had done it”, didn’t mean I had to do it that way too! We did not have the cool tech tools of today, but we played a game. We got to know each other with activities like Bingo and ‘Two Truths and a Lie’. And through those different activities and games, the students learned all about my procedures and rules. They didn’t need to be lectured on it. They experienced it.
My classroom was probably louder than most in the building, but I remember my students interacting with each other. Learning about my classroom and me, and beginning the start of great relationships that would last for years. I walked away knowing this is how it needs to be done every year. This interaction set the tone for a collaborative, fun, and motivating school year, not only for my students, but for me also.
Today, every classroom should be like this. Students should not have to “listen” to a bunch of rules and procedures that either they probably already know from previous classrooms (because we are similar in many aspects) or that they can figure out rather quickly. We can integrate games and activities into our first days, tech or no tech, to make learning fun. Teachers do this throughout the year. Why not on the first days of school too?
Then I became a principal…
And what did I do? Bore my staff with policies, procedures, and expectations. I was long-winded, filling our first meetings with all the policy mandates and requirements. I had little time to inspire my staff, and quite frankly, I was bored too! This was NOT how I wanted to start our school year together. I had to make a change.
After learning and leaning on my PLN, I decided to flip the policies and procedures, making and using videos to present the information so I could use my time with my staff in a more positive way. Sending out shorter, more concise videos on these requirements freed my staff from sitting through them in a room together, passing a paper around the room signing that they watched it. Staff could now watch the videos on their own, rewinding as needed, ensuring they understood the material presented. I created a short Google Form for signing, along with an open-ended response section if they did have a question. Privately, I addressed each question, clearing any questions before the start of school. I gave time for these videos to be completed, posting them in Google Classroom for a few weeks into the school year.
After learning and leaning on my PLN, I decided to flip the policies and procedures.
But flipping my first staff meetings was not all I wanted to change. The next change has taken time, but it is so important. Instead of still forcing my staff to sit and listen to me for an hour, I have used team-building activities that accentuate our theme for the year, bringing us together to talk, work together to accomplish something fun, and share our excitement and vision for the school year. Through these activities, we are collaborating on our vision and goals, streamlining the information so that my staff leaves the room invigorated and ready for the start of school.
- We have built towers with duct tape.
- We have played a game of Kahoot.
- We have conversed using a backchannel such as TodaysMeet.
- We have watched inspirational clips of Ted Talks.
- We have brainstormed with Post-Its through an Affinity Activity.
- We have written our One Word for the school year collaboratively (using only 1 marker!).
- And we WILL BE painting our feet, dancing to some GoNoodle, and making “our footprint”
I have heard of other administrators and teachers creating inspiring activities for their students and staff. The possibilities are endless. Reach out to your PLN for ideas!
The “Right Foot”
It is about meeting the excitement and anticipation of school with actual excitement through our dialogue, interactions, and activities. The first days of school do not have to drill rules and procedures into our students and teachers. These days should be filled with the possibilities, starting school with the inspiring and motivating message we all want from those first days, starting us off on the right foot, building the positive learning vibe that will carry throughout our year together.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, wideeyedwonders.