On the First Day, Less Is More

When I started teaching, I always planned way too much for the first days of school. It took me a while to learn to make the first day of school a comfortable, successful day—for my students and myself.

Once I became more experienced, I pared down my first day plans to just a few things: getting to know each other, learning some procedures, and having fun—all activities that helped us start building strong relationships. That was much more important than getting that first page of math done and sent home.

I also eventually learned that everything did not need to be perfectly set up for the first day. In fact, I realized that developing a beautiful classroom was something I should do with my students during the first weeks of school. If I set everything up before they arrived, the message I sent was that this was my classroom. I wanted the children to feel responsible for our space, too.

If you’re looking for ideas or inspiration as you plan for your first days of school, take a look at Caltha Crowe and her third-grade students on the DVD called The First Day of School in a Responsive Classroom. Caltha and her class generously allowed us to film their entire first day of school a couple years ago; the 40-minute DVD that resulted includes segments from arrival time, Morning Meeting, reading and math lessons, as well as Caltha teaching key classroom procedures such as responding to the quiet signal and lining up, and the beginning of creating classroom rules. You’ll also get lots of ideas from looking at how Caltha’s classroom is set up—notice how she leaves plenty of space on the walls for the children to fill with their work, and how she puts out only the supplies the class will use in the first few days.

I’m convinced that “less is more” when it comes to the first day of school. Try it! It will make the day more manageable for you, and more comfortable for your students. Let me know how it goes. Good luck!

Mark E. Emmons, M.Ed. has been in the field of education for more than thirty years. He recently retired from teaching third and fourth grade students in a multi-age classroom in the small, northern Vermont town of Jay, where he used Responsive Classroom for over fifteen years.

Tags: First Day of School, Quiet and Other Signals