It is about relationships
For years teachers have been told that the first day of school is all about setting boundaries, being firm, and even "mean" to students. I say we take this bad advice and dump it!!
Day ONE is not about rules, it's all about building relationships.
The first day with our kids is the most important day of the year. It's like a first impression when you meet someone. We can't have another first day of the year, so we have to get it right from the beginning. Day one sets the foundation for the rest of the year.
As our kids walk into our classrooms for the first day of class, their minds are filled with questions, expectations, rumors, and hopes. The first day is our answer to their question, expectations, rumors, and hopes.
Many of our students will have heard about us as teachers. They will have preconceived notions about our teaching styles from past students. Some of our kiddos are new to US schooling and have different educational background experiences. They may have unrealistic expectations about school in America. I once had a newcomer student who told me that her vision of school in America came from watching GLEE. She was totally let down when she arrived and school was nothing like the show.
For years, teachers have been told that the first day of school has to be about establishing the rules for the class period. I argue that our first day should be about establishing relationships and building a community. Rules come after that. In fact, I've found that the most effective rules are created together as a class. If we want our students to value the learning and have a shared respect for one another then we have to build the relationships amongst each other first.
On day one, rather than being firm, mean or teaching rules, begin by standing at the door and greeting students as they walk in. Acknowledge each student as they walk in and say some positive to every child. It never hurts to start off on the right foot. The first day is the perfect day to get to know each other. Let the students know a little about you personally and professionally. You can even embed your professional beliefs and vision here. For example, if you believe that all students can learn, let them know! Or if you believe that we aren't born smart, but that we GET smarter every day as we read and learn...tell them here! Maybe you want to them to know that you won't let them down! Our goal is for kids to WANT to learn and to WANT to come to class. Creating an environment that is warm and safe is step one.
On the first day, what we say, how we say it, our non-verbals, and what's in our classroom speaks volumes to our students. Show them that they are valued by making available to them diverse texts, creating space on the walls for their work and letting them know that the classroom "rules" will be created together as a community. These things tell kids that they matter.
Not only should the kids get to know you, but they should get to know each other and you will in turn get to know them. There are hundreds of ways to do this. Many teachers have regular ice-breakers that they love to use at the beginning of the year. A fun, interactive ice-breaker that allows students to share a bit about themselves is great for the first day. You could even try an online or app version using Kahoot, Seesaw or Flipgrid.
This day is about letting your students know that you care about them and you love what you do. And for goodness sake, if anyone advises you to not smile at students until October, please find a new adviser. Kids need us from DAY ONE!
Reasons why focusing on relationships is better than rules on day 1: