5 Priorities When Planning the First Week of School!
The start of the school year can be super stressful and at the same time, a super exciting time of year. Anyone got butterflies in their bellies just thinking about it? 🤣
That first week is so important because its students first impression with you as a teacher, with their classmates, and with your course. The foundations of the rest of the year are laid those first meetings with them and it can be so nerve wracking for us teachers- we want everything to go right!
But, even if everything doesn’t go right, if you have the right priorities those first week you can be assured that you are going to have an amazing year with each of your classes. So, I wanted to share my top 5 priorities for the first week of school that help me build a community of excited and passionate learners.
Top Five Priorities for Week One
Build Relationships - Relationships between you and each students and between the students make all the difference for a classroom culture. And that first week I am prioritizing making meaningful connections with all my students and ensuring they have positive interactions with each other.
Thats why I meet students at the door, greet them, and help them find their seats (projected on the board). I try to get all their names down by the second day and know 2 things about each of them by the end of the first week (name plates with hobbies & interests help with this). Then we do history themed ice-breakers and team building activities so they get unique and fun interactions with one another.
You will never regret spending too much time building relationships and community, trust me.
Develop Excitement & Curiosity - If its true that students today are more disengaged than ever, we need to shake things up and get them excited to learn on day one. I skip the syllabus for the first two days and anything that will have them sitting and listening to me for more than seven minutes. I want them doing, thinking, moving, talking, and wrestling with big ideas. Yes, on day one and two!
Curiosity is the lifeblood of the classroom and if we can get students curious about our content and excited to learn, the rest of the pieces will fall into place. My goal is to have students racing to my class when they return after that first weekend.
Understanding Why History Matters - It took me about 7 years of hearing students somewhat regularly asking, “But we don’t we need to learn about X” to finally convince me that students need a bootcamp on why history matters! Well, thats how I start my year- day one- we start with an awesome activity that nails it every year on ‘Why we study history?’.
This get students moving through 6 stations that reveal a different reason why history matters which leads to rich small group discussions. This then leads to a full class debate of, get this, students convincing each other different reasons why history is awesome and why its so important we learn it!
I also have an activity, “A World Without History” where students imagine how their lives and how the world would be different if a dictator erased all history and made it illegal to learn. These two activities pay off dividends all year long!
Mastering Essential Procedures & Routines - If you prefer a class of chaotic, disruptive, to a class that is efficient, calm, and smooth sailing, don’t teach students to master your procedures and routines. But if you prefer the later, you need to consider which routines are most important in your room and practice them until students master them- this will go beyond the first week.
My most important routines I have them master week1 are- entering the classroom peacefully and getting started on the bellwork before the bell rings, how to have ‘quick-chats’ (20-60 second partner discussion), how to transition from group work to giving me full attention (within 3 seconds), how to turn in work, and how to exit the classroom with a clean work station. If they master these leave me energized at the end of the day opposed to completely drained like I was my first couple years before prioritizing this.
- Having Fun…Together - To set up a great year of robust learning, you need to have fun with your students. I want to make sure I smile at students often, laugh with them during class, and thank them for the wonderful experience at the end of each class. Students are so much more likely to strive towards excellence, to push themselves through academic challenges, and embrace rigor if they also have fun learning in your room.
Plan into your first activities opportunities where students might spontaneously high five. I’ve always said if students are high fiving sometime during class that means the lesson worked- they are having fun and succeeding through a challenge together!
If you prioritize these five things during week 1, you are setting yourself up for a fantastic school year. You never get to make a first impression and if you want your classroom to be a space where students are interested and excited to learn, focusing on building a rich community of learners, having fun while challenging them to think deeply about history, while getting them to master essential routines will be the pillars of a wonderful year with your classes.
You can check out my “First Week of History Class Bundle” with fun activities, history themed ice-breakers, student surveys, and syllabus templates and more! Swagger into week 1 with confidence & a plan to crush it!