How To Set The Tone On The First Day Of School

How to Set The Tone On The First Day Of SchoolOf the many goals you have on the first day of school, none compares in importance to setting the proper tone for your students.

It is the initial impression of your classroom, after all, that establishes its culture.

It’s the feeling, the pace, the attitude, the mood, and the spirit of the experience that expresses who you are, what you value, and what it means to be a member of your classroom.

It’s the heady mixture of hope and possibility that fuels everything you do and say with greater significance.

Although your first-day lessons and activities play an integral part in setting the tone, it’s your style and demeanor that rule the day.

What follows isn’t so much what to do on the first day of school . . . it’s how to be.

Be Likable

The old maxim that you shouldn’t smile the first two months of the school year is terrible advice. In fact, you should lavish your smile upon your students. It means so much and communicates so many wonderful things. Yet, amid the busyness of the first day, it’s easy to forget.

It’s easy to get so caught up in your objectives that you forget the human connection. A genuine smile creates instant likability, builds effortless rapport, and activates the power of reciprocation.

Be Calm

Your calm demeanor alone, without having to say a word, has a powerful effect on students—much more than most teachers realize. It settles first-day jitters. It allays fears and uncertainties. It sweeps away misbehavior-causing excitability and allows your students to focus on you and your message.

It also helps establish the peaceful but focused learning environment you want by providing an example for your students to follow. Fill your classroom with positive, all-is-well vibrations, and they’ll respond in kind.

Be Clear

When it comes to effective classroom management, clarity trumps all. Present every lesson, activity, and transition with utter simplicity. Pause often while speaking, make eye contact to assess understanding, and model explicitly through each moment of your instruction.

It’s critical in the beginning for your students to develop the habit of successfully listening and understanding everything you teach. In this way, as you move on to more complex, multi-step material, they’ll be right with you.

Be Confident

If you’re unsure about what to do next, if you hem and haw, repeat yourself, change your mind, think out loud, speak too much or too fast, or appear befuddled, you’ll lose your students. A compelling teacher perpetually provides value. They’re worth following and listening to.

To engender confidence and begin grooving the habit of keen attentiveness, you must make your words count. When giving instruction, tell your students only what they need to know. Be direct and concise. Speak with conviction and don’t waste their time. They’ll remember everything you say.

Be Fun

For many, many reasons—which we’ll cover in a future article—it’s important that your students leave for the day happy and excited about the upcoming school year. It’s important that they run home and excitedly tell their parents how much they like you and love being in your classroom.

Although playing a first-day, getting-to-know-you game is a great idea, it’s your personality that will resonate. It’s your openness to laughter, your generous spirit, and your love and enthusiasm for teaching that will shine the brightest and mean the most.

Paving The Way

The first day of school isn’t just about setting the tone for your students. It’s also about setting the tone for yourself. You’re laying the groundwork, developing the habits of exceptional teaching and classroom management.

The keys above not only position you for a successful first day, but for a successful year. They imbibe you with a demeanor and style that allow you to naturally build rapport, elicit fervent devotion, and cause your students to want to behave.

They make them receptive to your instruction and nodding along in agreement with your soaring expectations.

They pave the way for the best school experience your students have ever had.

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24 Responses to How To Set The Tone On The First Day Of School

  1. Andrew August 9, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    My first day of high school was an all boys’ class. As soon as we walked in we ran riot: Shouting, running around, throwing objects. Now that I’m beginning teaching I wonder “what if that happens to me?” The teacher had no control and no warning nor time-out would have quelled the class, let alone have been heard over the ruckus. I’m confident I can manage a few who might try this, but what if the whole class just runs amok before they even enter the room?

    • Michael Linsin August 10, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

      Hi Andrew,

      This is a question that concerns many specialist teachers in particular, and I’ve written about how best to avoid it happening altogether in the book Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers. I’ll be sure and put it on the list of future topics to cover on the website.


      • Timerie July 13, 2016 at 6:20 pm #

        Hi Michael,
        I teach voluntary elementary Orchestra early before school. My district offers bussing.
        My question is how to approach kids and parents that enroll in my class but cut class 10+ times in 28 rehearsals. I can tell they’re cutting by checking the classroom attendance list online.
        I tried giving a 3-strikes-you’re-out rule, but my principal stopped me, saying I can’t kick kids out for not showing up. Part of my teacher performance score comes from observing my concert, so my “effectiveness” rides on my student’s musical education, as it should. How can I teach them if they’re not there?
        I usually resort to emailing the parent saying “your child is an essential part of the ensemble; please help THEM remember to come to rehearsals”. I hand out and email calendars, send reminders, and make school announcements, but kids and parents shirk their commitment. What do you recommend?
        Thanks so much,
        Timerie Gatto
        High strung in New York

        • Michael Linsin July 14, 2016 at 8:16 am #

          Hi Timerie,

          I would set a minimum standard number of practices students have to attend in order to participate in concerts/performances.


          • Timerie July 15, 2016 at 8:42 am #

            Thanks Michael. Love your site!

  2. Christine August 10, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    Great advice for the start of a new year, thank you, Michael.

    • Michael Linsin August 10, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

      You’re welcome, Christine!


  3. Lisa August 10, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

    I had a rough time last year and I am determined not to repeat it! I’ve read your book Dream Class three times and refer to your website often. Thanks for giving clear cut methods and strategies! I am hoping my students reap the rewards this coming school year!

    • Michael Linsin August 10, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

      You’re welcome, Lisa! You’ll do great!


  4. Ted Hahn August 10, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

    If you have the students line up before they even enter your classroom you start off having control over the students before class even starts. my students must line up outside the room and wait for permission to enter, I have seat assignment set before the first day of class and show confidence and control before the first bell ever rings.

    • Michael Linsin August 10, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

      Excellent advice, Ted! Thanks for sharing.


  5. LJ August 14, 2014 at 2:01 am #

    Not sure if you’ve written about this before but I wondered what you do if a child who has had a warning breaks a rule at the end of the day – do you give them a time out at the start of the next day? Is there another consequence? Thanks for all the great articles!

    • Michael Linsin August 14, 2014 at 7:29 am #

      Hi LJ,

      You put them in time-out if only for a minute or two. Yes, even on their way out the door.


  6. Susan October 15, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    It’s October, and I can see that I’ve made several mistakes with my class. What is the best way to start fresh? If I miss the first week window is my class doomed for the rest of the year?

  7. Alissa August 17, 2015 at 4:31 pm #

    When do you start issuing consequences? Today was the students first day, we went over the new rules and consequences and modeled good and bad examples of behavior. Since we went over the plan today should it take place immediately, or should I have a a few days of practicing, reminding and more role playing? Your approach is new to me and my students (I was really bad at letting them shout out) and I want to show them without a doubt that this is how things will be handled this year. Is there a “grace period” or should I be following the plan the second day? Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

    • Michael Linsin August 18, 2015 at 7:19 am #

      Hi Alissa,

      Although you may still teach more of the ins and outs of your plan throughout the week and next, once you cover the essentials, you should begin enforcing. So, yes, you should begin following your plan as it’s written.


  8. Coreen Grant August 28, 2016 at 6:30 am #

    Dear Micheal,

    At my school students have their own classroom so I have to go to their class. How do I teach class routines for the beginning of the class given that they are already in the class?

    • Michael Linsin August 28, 2016 at 7:39 am #

      Hi Coreen,

      There is too much to your question for me to answer here. I would also have questions for you. I’ll try to work the topic into a future article. There is a cost involved, but we also offer personal coaching.


  9. Sara September 2, 2016 at 6:38 pm #

    Great read! Lots of lovely advice!

    • Michael Linsin September 3, 2016 at 8:01 am #

      Thanks Sara!


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