The first day is everything.
My students spent their summer inundated with news reports about senseless, merciless and unjust killings of people who look just like them. They are afraid.
My students spent their summer working multiple jobs just to keep food on their families’ tables. They are hungry and tired.
My students spent their summer wondering which of their teachers from May would still be there in August. They are insecure.
My students spent their summer listening to a white man’s rhetoric about how they don’t belong in this country, how they’ll be shipped back to a place that is no longer home to them, only to have their vision of this country’s promise cut off by a wall. They are worried.
My students spent their summer surrounded by terror attacks of extremists who (reportedly) worship the same god they do. They are disheartened.
So, yes, the first day is everything.
When they walk into my classroom–into our classroom–they don’t just need a safe place. They don’t just need a restorative place. They don’t just need a grounded place. They don’t just need a comfortable place. They don’t just need a welcoming place.
They need a home where they belong.
- Home is where the door is open and inviting. It is important that the minute students see our classroom, they know it is for them. I do this with welcoming signs and clear communication.
- Home is a place that is tidy and organized. I bought a carpet to ensure the auditory and aesthetic quality of my room was on point. I have bins for students to store their stuff. All of the previous day’s handouts have a place to be with clear labeling. I have minimal decorations as this will arise collaboratively with students’ contributions and academic anchor charts throughout the year.
- Home is a place where resources abound. My first year student teaching, my mentor had the students bring community supplies for extra credit. I have copied this every year since. We have bad days or forgetful days; when that happens, my students always have what they need in the classroom to be successful–partly because they provide those resources for each other.
- Home is a place where students are known. I do not want students’ first day to be going over a syllabus.
#TeacherTip 66. U have one chance to make a 1st impression, spending it going over the syllabus would be like taking a first date to prison.
— HipHughes (@hiphughes) August 20, 2016
Rather, I give a survey the first day so that I can gather important information about who my kiddos are…in school and as a human. While they are taking the survey, I walk around and introduce myself to each of them individually with a handshake. Such a first day procedure ensures that the priceless first impression that our time together will not be about rules, but about them.
- Home is a place where I as the teacher am known. This was my first year at my current school, so the reputation that in the past had always done so much prework for me was void. So, I brought my reputation to them…alongside my heart. Students walked into the classroom to find this letter.
- Home is a place where students see themselves. Our first activity as a class was to watch and discuss this video about “what’s your WHY?” I shared with students that there will be times this year where it will be hard and discouraging, and that’s exactly why they need to know why they’re showing up and persevering. Some of their whys (more still to come from students throughout the year) now are on display at the front of the room as a visual reminder to them that this is not about a grade, but about a heart matter.
- Home is a place where students honor connection. The day after I introduced the why concept, we had circle. In this time, with the passing of a talking piece, students shared who or what their why is and told a story about their why. It was tender and special and bonding. It was a beautiful way to establish the kind of feel we will have in our classroom.
Just as the circle, I end where I started. The first day is everything. For I know that for there to be great learning in my class, there must be great risk.
And everyone feels more comfortable risking when they feel at home.
For more of my thoughts on how to establish a sense of home where students belong in the classroom, check out:
- building a place we all want to be
- the puzzle of a positive learning environment
- a classroom thanksgiving
- mantras for students