Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Starting Off on the Right Foot: Success in the Classroom

All around the country, school is beginning for students and educators. We are buying supplies, prepping classrooms, and gearing up for a great year. 

Teachers plan and plan for the first day. Over the years, my first day activities have evolved to less talking, more student action.

The Early Years
When I first began teaching, the first day of school was my day of talk. A day the focused solely on me, who I am, my class expectations, and more. It wasn't until day two that I would ask about my students. 

This, of course, was boring. It told my students that this class was boring. That I was boring. I am anything, but boring! Beginning the first couple days on paperwork and procedures was not setting up my students or my class for success. It didn't show how much I care about them. And it certainly didn't showcase what our learning environment was about: THEM. 

Since connecting to other teachers through Twitter, I have changed my stance on the first days of school. The first days of school need to be about welcoming students. Teachers need to make students feel safe and cared for. We need to be creating a community of students and staff. 

How did I begin?

I first read Teach Like a Pirate (TLAP). This was a needed read for me at the time of test scores, an implementation of Common Core, and feeling lost and redundant at my site. This book reminded me of the kind of teacher I wanted to be and what my students needed. So, I changed how I started school. I began with a QR code scavenger hunt for my seventh graders to get to know the campus and to learn how to work in teams. Secondly, I did the TLAP Island Activity. This, of course, intrigued my students, but elicited conversations and dynamics between students that helped me learn who they were. I still do these activities today. Read more about it here.

OJHS found in nature!
This year, I have a class of eighth graders. I can't do the same things! Thus, I created an Instagram Challenge. I don't think I've seen students so excited! Doing this challenge inspired me to continue using technology that students are already using and to make it interesting to students. I got to learn so much about who they are through the pictures they took and the comments they shared. Feedback from my students were so positive that I will have to create more.

In addition to these activities, I am pushing back starting curriculum an entire week so that I can do what Jon Corippo calls "Smart Start". For students to achieve academically, they need a place that is truly caring and welcoming. This is where Smart Start begins. In both my seventh and eighth grade classes, we (yes, including me!) are doing a series of activities to A. Get to know each other, and B. Use and get to know the technologies, including SMART amp, that we will be using throughout the year. Win win! Students have the opportunity to be creative through different technologies and to get to know one another through different topics given. It's fun, fast paced, and builds a caring community.

What I have learned
I have learned so much through my many years of teaching and being a connected educator. One of the best is tossing the traditional talk and paperwork start of the school year. Students need connections. They need it and crave it. 

By cultivating those connections and a safe environment, students will not be afraid to fail, make mistakes, and thus learn even more. Students will give you all they can and succeed because YOU believe they can. It's those little things that make a HUGE difference.

Just remember: 

Be that teacher.

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