The First Day of School (and every day after)

The goal of working with students is to build positive relationships with students so that the they know that you care about them and that you are trustworthy. And, after this positive relationship has been established students will behave better and ultimately perform better academically. The first thing people usually say when they hear about this approach is that they don’t have enough time for all that. They have to cover from A to Z before the end of the school year and there just isn’t enough time for any type of relational approach. I’ve heard this a lot of times and my answer is always the same. If you don’t take the time to build a positive relationship the A to Z stuff is never ever going to matter because you’re never going to get to it. A certain percentage of students are never going to care about the things that you’re trying to teach them unless they know that you care and can be trusted. You might be thinking yeah that sounds good, but… Forget the but. There is no but. Your class, whatever you’re teaching is about the students and not about the content. I know this is really hard for some people to accept but there’s no other way to put it. Your class exists for the students and it’s definitely not the other way around. You need to always focus on the people first and the content will follow. You can definitely reverse the order but you are also definitely always going to have a certain number of students who don’t come along for the ride. And, those students will not only harm themselves but will also do hard to everything else that you’re trying to do while you’re focused on your content.

So what does a classroom look like that focuses first on people and second on content? It starts and ends with people. From the first day of school you are focused on the people. If you want your students to know that you care about them you first need to know who they are, where they’re coming from, and what makes them tick. To do this the first day of school does not start with page 1. And, it definitely doesn’t start with a list of 25 rules or expectations. Rules and expectations will be a whole nother topic for another day. From the first day of school to the last you are working on building positive relationships. So the first day of school looks like you getting personal with your students. Who are you? Why are you standing in front of them? And, why should they care what you have to say? And I’m not talking about the fact that you have 45 years of experience and 17 advanced degrees. I’m talking about the stuff that makes you tick. So introduce yourself to your students and let them know who you are. Then, let them know that they can trust you and that you care about them. If you want to try something fun tell a student that you care about him or her the first time that you meet. You will see some strange expressions but you will also let people know exactly where you’re standing. I always say something similar to this on the first day of school:

” I care about you and the only reason I’m here is because of you. I will never yell at you or treat you in a way that disrespects you as a person. You can always count on me to do my best for you in this room and anywhere else you see me for the rest of your life.”

It’s a little corny, maybe, but it’s honest. And then after you talk about yourself for a couple of minutes you can quickly move on to the students. You can do an entire week or two of icebreakers and team-building activities. As you do these you are getting to know each and every student in a deeper way than you could in months of not doing them. And then, after everyone in the class is really familiar with each other you can move on to whatever stuff you want to teach them.

This sets the class up for being about people and not stuff. And then after the first day or the first week, once you’re teaching content, it’s still always about people. Maybe you have more projects and more hands-on learning. Maybe you are almost never at your desk. Maybe if there is time where students are working you’re up talking to them. And then this model doesn’t stop and it becomes what you do every class of every day. Your students will soon realize that you’re teaching them the stuff because you care about them. And, before you know it, they will want to do the stuff as a result of the relationship that you have built.

To remember this strategy just remember this very eloquently written line: It’s about people and not stuff.

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