7 Keys To The First Day Of School

7 Keys To The First Day Of SchoolThe first day of school is about setting the tone.

It’s about focusing on the first wee little steps leading to the most memorable school year your students have ever had.

There is no room for weak first impressions, no room for indecisiveness, and no room to leave your students bored or uninspired.

It’s best to think of the first day of school as a microcosm of the coming year. In other words, it should represent who you are and what you want your classroom to be.

The seven keys below may not be the only items on your agenda, but in terms of making an impression on your students, they’re the most important.

And are not to be missed.

1. A smile.

It’s so simple, but also so very important. A smile to greet your students is the first step to building rapport. It’s the first step to creating a trusting, close-knit relationship with your new class.

Remember, if your students like you and trust you, then classroom management becomes much, much easier. A smile activates instant likability—and so much more.

2. A peaceful pace.

Establish a peaceful pace to your classroom by speaking calmly but firmly, taking your time, pausing often, and never moving on until you get exactly what you want from your new students.

These powerful strategies will begin grooving the initial learning and behaving habits that make for a mature, attentive classroom.

3. A routine.

With your new students eager to please, early the first morning is the perfect time to send the message that you expect excellence in everything they do—even the most mundane routines.

Teach a highly detailed lesson on how to enter your classroom in the morning—or any other common routine. Be of good cheer, make it enjoyable and participatory, but set your expectations beyond anything they’ve ever experienced.

4. A story.

Storytelling is a powerful medium. Teachers who use it to their advantage—to communicate profound truths, fire imagination and wonder, awaken indifferent students, and more—are infinitely more effective.

A fun or unusual anecdote about you, perhaps from your childhood, will initiate that first spark, that first inkling that being in your classroom is going to be different, and somehow, some way . . . wonderfully special.

Note: For more on storytelling and its remarkable power, see chapter 9 of Dream Class.

5. A plan.

Although you’ll use the rest of the first week to teach your classroom management plan in depth, it’s important to give an overview of your rules and consequences on the first day. The reason is twofold.

First, your students need to know your boundaries so you can begin enforcing them. Second, it’s an opportunity to express your deep commitment to protect their right to learn and enjoy school without interference.

6. A lesson.

Send the message that yours is a classroom of focused, get-down-to-it learning by jumping into academics on the first day . . . but not with just any lesson.

Choose one thing you want them to understand or know how to do and teach the heck out of it. Show them something unique, something they haven’t seen or experienced before. Be at your best, and they’ll start the year excited about learning.

7. A little fun.

Show your students that your sky-high expectations extend beyond behavior and academics. To be in your classroom also means to have fun.

Small doses of humor throughout the day, a getting-to-know-you activity, a simple openness to enjoying your students—any of these will do. The idea is to establish a classroom environment that balances hard work with camaraderie, friendship, and joy.

In other words, a classroom they look forward to coming to every day.

Smooth Sailing Ahead

It pays to make your first day of school a special one, to take advantage of your one chance to make a first impression, to leave your students exhilarated, out of breath, and happily shaken.

You’ll be immediately elevated to favorite-teacher status. Your students will be excited to come back the next day and inspired to please you with their best.

And parents? They will be thrilled and firmly ensconced in your corner.

But like a shrewd and grizzled sea captain, you have an ulterior motive. For you know that when you begin the journey with calm waters and a strong wind at your back . . .

It’s smooth sailing ahead.

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19 Responses to 7 Keys To The First Day Of School

  1. Jacqueline Miller-Perry July 21, 2012 at 11:43 am #

    Hello Michael,
    At my school, during the first few weeks of school, kids are still coming in. Never are all the students there the first day or second and probably not the first week. How do I have a successful first day or week when the kids are showing up at all these various times? Not to mention all throughout the day, there are constant interruptions from the intercom and people coming and going in and out of the classrooms. It is very frustrating. Thank you so much for any help you can offer.

    • Michael Linsin July 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

      Hi Jacqueline,

      One of the keys to teaching without stress is not to concern yourself with matters outside your control. Things tend to work out when you keep your cool and focus on your job. But here’s the thing: If those late arrivals come into a class that is well-organized, that is already filled with students who know what their responsibilities are, then they’ll fall in line. No problem. When you’re focused on creating that special environment for your students, nothing in the world is going to stop you.


  2. Jamie July 21, 2012 at 3:42 pm #


    • Michael Linsin July 21, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

      You’re welcome, Jamie!

  3. Suzanne Rogers July 21, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    I’ve shared this with our new and improving teachers and shared it on Google+ as well. You provide solid information for professional educators. Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin July 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

      You’re welcome, Suzanne! And thank you for sharing.


  4. Pauline July 21, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    I love this article! So glad I found you 🙂

  5. Charlene July 22, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    MaNy great suggestions. Especially routine building and some fun. We start with responsibility as we are a ‘leader in me” school. That also means that students set behavior plan-ALL in the positive.
    For students coming late, put a student in charge of getting the new kid caught up. My grade 4s can do it so I bet most grades can.
    We do lots if team building an empowering activities for the first week. Problem solving and critical thinking that isn’t directly related to curriculum.
    First week sets tone for whole year so must be planned with outcomes in mind.

  6. Shannon Wiebe July 22, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    So simple and perfect. Thanks for the reminder. A smile, of course. And a calm pace. Well said.

  7. Catherine July 25, 2012 at 7:38 am #

    Perfect timing, as I was just tweaking my classroom management plan last night. I was also thinking about the first day–should I have them come in, sit down, and then teach my highly detailed and structured “entering the classroom” plan right away? Or should I start with a fun activity and then go over this. Even though I will be reviewing my plan all week, I want them to at least have seen some of the basic daily routines as well as my three-step consequence plan the first day because I don’t know how to go for a few days without that structure already in place.

    • Michael Linsin July 25, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      Hi Catherine,

      It depends on you. If you’ve struggled with classroom management in the past, or teaching detailed routines is somewhat new to you, then it’s best to jump right into it after welcoming your new students. Otherwise a fun activity is fine and a great way to start your year.


  8. Sarah August 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    I love the pep talk and you have many good suggestions. I work in a residential treatment school. Most of these kids have learned and broken almost every “behavior management plan” a teacher has introduced. These students are 14-21 years old and have been removed from all schools they ever attended. What do you think I should do with these kids. What kind of consequenses can I provide students like this? They’ve heard it all.

    • Michael Linsin August 7, 2012 at 9:43 am #

      Hi Sarah,

      It’s not consequences that motivate or encourage students to follow your rules. It’s you, your relationship with them, and the learning environment you create–which is a major focus of this website. Concentrate on making your room a special place, and everything becomes much easier.


  9. ken August 25, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Thank you so much for everything you offer on this site. I was wondering, what are your thoughts on this lesson for a first day plan? http://talkswithteachers.com/1st-day-lesson/

    You would basically divide students into groups of 3-4, give them an envelope with a scenario on it (one in which one of the classroom rules is being broken), and then each group of students would act their skit out for the class. After the skit, the teacher would lead a discussion on–

    1. What was the problem behavior in this skit?
    2. How should a teacher handle this behavior?
    3. What should the student(s) do differently?

    Is this better than the teacher doing the modeling? And if this is a good idea, should the teacher review the rules before this exercise?

    • Michael Linsin August 26, 2016 at 7:53 am #

      Hi Ken,

      When I get a chance, I’ll check it out. 🙂


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