How A First-Day-Of-School Lesson Can Improve Classroom Management For The Rest Of The Year

There exists a strategy that, if taught on the first day of school, can have a profound effect on the rest of the year.

Smart Classroom Management: How A First Day Of School Strategy Can Improve Classroom Management For The Rest Of The YearIt takes little if any preparation time.

It’s simple in its directness and also fun and participatory.

But it will shake your students down to the soles of their feet.

It will send the message that yours is no ordinary classroom, that expectations have taken a startling leap skyward . . . that they’re not in Kansas anymore.

You see, one of the best things you can do on the first day of school is set the bar of what is normal far above what your students are used to.

Far above what your colleagues are doing. Far above what most teachers mean when they use the term “high expectations.”

The good news is that you can make this leap in a single lesson. You can rewire your students’ internal understanding of excellence in one short but electric block of time.

It’s a lesson they’ll readily accept without so much as an eye roll because they’ll assume that in your class, your grade level, or your subject area, it’s just the way things are.

Furthermore, on the first day of school your students will be more open to change than at any other time during the year.

They’re primed and ready to start fresh, to turn over a new leaf, to put the mistakes and failures of the past behind them.

How It Works

The way the strategy works is that you’re going to teach your students a common, everyday routine—like how to enter the classroom in the morning—in a way that is highly, minutely, even obsessively, detailed.

You’re going to teach it in a way that redefines what it means to follow directions and perform at a high level, while at the same time ensuring that every student is successful.

Done right, this new definition of excellence will transfer to every area of classroom management, from behavior to motivation to politeness.

It will establish a standard that will continue for as long as you maintain it.

Teaching this bar-raising strategy entails creating a memory map for your students to follow every single morning.

Here’s how:

You Model

Borrow a student’s backpack and, while pretending to be an actual member of your class, perform the morning routine precisely how you want your students to do it.

Show purpose, expediency, and concentration as you model your way through the steps you want them to take upon entering your classroom.

This may include hanging up backpacks and jackets, checking mailboxes, organizing personal materials, and displaying or turning in homework. It may include greeting tablemates or reviewing the daily schedule.

It’s smart to add details rather than making it too simple.

Challenge is good and will increase concentration, improve memory, and keep your students focused and purpose-driven from the moment they walk through the door.

Extend the routine to the point where they’re either working independently or sitting quietly, facing you, and ready to begin the first lesson.

A specific, well-oiled routine will eliminate morning apathy, irritability, sleepiness, silliness, and the like, ensuring a peaceful rather than stressful start to each day.

It also saves time and allows you to be a teacher rather than a micromanager.

Student Models

After modeling twice, and asking your students if they have any clarifying questions, choose a single student to model.

Ask them to mimic your actions and movements, and even your focused expressions, in minute detail.

When they finish, calmly praise them for what they did well. Remember, praise is both effective and worthy when students are learning something for the first time.

It provides feedback that further illuminates the path you want them to follow. Having one student model causes the rest to visualize themselves doing it right along with them.

It also proves that it can be done, and done well.

If, however, even one step strays from your initial instruction, then point it out, reteach it, and have the student do it again. It is the smallest details that make the biggest difference.

Done correctly, you should feel as if you’re going overboard in your instruction.

More Model

Now call on a few more students to model, one at a time, for the class. Follow them as they go through the steps and movements, nodding along the way.

Use papers, books, umbrellas, laptops, and sweaters as props. Make it as close to the real thing as you can. Again, if corners are cut, ask them to start over again from the beginning.

Have the mindset that you’re only going to teach this particular routine one time. So teach the heck out of it. Get it right and it will set the tone for all routines to follow.

It will set the tone for effort, behavior, and academic performance too.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you’re going to be a demanding ogre. Be sure you teach with a spirit of fun and confidence.

Routines can be drudgery if you drill them like an old football coach.

All Model

Once you feel confident your students can do the routine individually, then send your entire class outside with their backpacks to perform the routine simultaneously.

Emphasize politeness as they work around each other to hang up hats and maneuver around desks. “Good morning,” “please,” and “excuse me” should be the predominant communication during the opening routine.

You’re only job during this time is to observe, saying as little as possible.

Resist the urge to talk them through the routine—which will weaken rather than strengthen performance and create dependency on you.

Let them do it on their own. Give them a chance to mature and grow and test themselves. It builds confidence and competence, and their body language will show it.

When they finish, if they get it right, be sure and tell them that it’s perfect, that it can’t be done any better. Many teachers are afraid to do this.

They’ve been led to believe that no one ever arrives, that there is always more to learn. But it isn’t true. Once they prove they can do it well, then heartily let them know.

Note: Although you’ll want to practice until they get it right, it’s okay to take a break and revisit the routine later in the day—or the next. Repetition, after all, isn’t a bad word.

It Starts Now

Teaching a highly detailed routine to perfection on the first day of school is the single best thing you can do to ensure a well-behaved and productive school year.

It sets the standard for every routine, lesson, and activity to follow. It raises the bar of what is normal from mediocrity to excellence.

It sends the message that your new students are now part of something special, something different, something bigger and more important than themselves.

And they’ll love it. It feels good. It fills them with purpose and drive. It motivates and inspires.

It alights a fire of intrinsic motivation to listen, to learn, to behave, and to enjoy being a valued member of your classroom.

You are not every teacher. And yours isn’t any old classroom.

You can have the dream class you want. You can have the teaching experience you envisioned when you first decided to become a teacher.

But it starts here.

It starts now.

It starts with this simple 20-minute lesson.

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18 Responses to How A First-Day-Of-School Lesson Can Improve Classroom Management For The Rest Of The Year

  1. Dennis August 15, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    My school has breakfast in the classroom, which makes it difficult to set a good tone for the day.

    • Michael Linsin August 15, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

      Hi Dennis,

      This too must be made into a seamless routine. I’ll be sure and put this topic on the list of future articles.


  2. Greg August 16, 2015 at 9:41 pm #

    Greater article, as usual, Michael! These articles always seem to come at just the right time.? Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin August 17, 2015 at 7:06 am #

      You’re welcome, Greg!


  3. Denise August 23, 2015 at 8:03 am #

    Great article! Thank you! This is just what I was looking for to begin the school year.

    I’m wondering how to do this routine with lockers? Typically the students go to their locker first thing and unpack their backpacks, then they enter the classroom. Should I begin modeling with the students at their lockers? Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin August 23, 2015 at 9:50 am #

      Hi Denise,

      Yes, or you can model how you’d like them to line up just outside of the classroom.


  4. Halima August 31, 2015 at 9:03 am #

    Hi, what would you recommend if the students are already in the class and you are taking the place of a teacher that is in the classroom packing their things.
    Thank you for your helpful articles!

    • Michael Linsin August 31, 2015 at 11:29 am #

      Hi Halima,

      If you’re in charge of the class, then nothing changes.


  5. Prudence October 10, 2015 at 5:33 am #

    I am curious as to what the rest of the students do? I have tried to model only to find that a handful are engaged and the others are doing there own thing. How do I keep them all engaged when they are susposed to be watching? Acting silly or funny with this group just gets me eye rolls and more off task behavior.

    I am willing to try anything.

    • Michael Linsin October 10, 2015 at 7:35 am #

      Hi Prudence,

      Please read through the Procedures & Routines category of the archive. You’ll find your answer there. (Your teaching must be compelling.)


  6. Joy November 29, 2015 at 9:25 pm #

    I am a first year preschool teacher, and am hanging on to your words like a lifeline! I wish I would have started reading your work at the beginning of the school year. I’ve created a needy, talkative, wiggly group of preschoolerrs who are expected to successfully learn an accelerated curriculum. I realize I need to turn 180 degrees from how I was class managing! Do you have any advice for a preschool teacher who needs to 1) start over 2)break it down to their comprehension level 3) re-teach and model for my students. while still trying to get all curriculum complete?

    • Michael Linsin November 30, 2015 at 7:54 am #

      Hi Joy,

      I’m so glad you found us. That’s a big question I don’t have the time or space to answer here. Rest assured, however, we’ve covered it all. I recommend spending more time in the archive or picking up a copy of the book The Classroom Management Secret.


  7. Anna June 18, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    Would you do the same with highschool students? How would this look for highshool? I want to do this the first day of school but I feel the students may not be as receptive as younger students. What do you suggest?

    • Michael Linsin June 19, 2016 at 7:04 am #

      Hi Anna,

      I’m working on a downloadable guide for high school teachers. There is too much involved for an article or even a series of articles. Stay tuned. I hope to have it completed by mid-July.


      • Lauren August 3, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

        I bought the guide. It doesn’t answer this question. However, I think you could make it work for high schoolers with the proper framing. Your higher level students (those with good grades) know how to behave in a classroom, but I bet they would enjoy the opportunity to demonstrate “how not” to behave in a class. Everybody likes getting out of their box for a while. You could do the activity jig-saw style. Oh! Or like charades! I remember in college one of our instructors put us in groups and asked us to demonstrate the behaviors of really terrible teachers. We laughed and had a great time, but it was still a serious conversation (since some of that stuff has serious consequences). It’s all in how you present it. And your lower-achieving students really need the demonstrations here. I know mine would get excited if one day I asked them to do something that they know would annoy me (just for demonstration purposes). I would ask them to refer to the rules I laid out and explain how they knew it would irritate me. You can totally do this with teenagers! Specific examples and advise from Mr. Linsin would be appreciated, though, since he writes with elegant candor, and he is the expert.

  8. C Devidasan August 16, 2016 at 4:40 am #

    An exhaustive write. Power of initiative and power initiation has great significance in laying down a routine with a view to develop habits that are healthy and induce knowledge.

    The student is the most important stake holder in any type of school starting from kinder garden to higher education. Unfortunately many do not give the required attention to this aspect. Often there is a commercial consideration which becomes the propelling force.

    The strategies and even the proceedure must be two fold. 1) One give excellentdomain knowledge to the student and the other 2) Build in him a good citizen, a good human being who is sharing and caring and work towards harmonious co-existence in his society while perusing his personal goals.It is easily said, but those who have done it have spent their entire life-time on it.

    The best way to create a permanent asset is to invest in a child.