Planning First Day

Recently I was providing leadership skills training for teachers who facilitate professional learning communities at their school. We examined how Questions for Life could be used to create questions that increase the productivity of PLC planning sessions.

As a sample we practiced using the following questions to explore planning the opening week of school:

What will students see and hear in your classroom on opening day?

How are the first three days of school similar and different from the rest of the year?

List activities that you usually do during the opening week of school.

What generalization can you make about “setting the stage” for the school year?

What are the most important messages you want students to sense during the opening days of the year?

What relationship exists between our school vision/mission and the first day’s message to students?

How important is it to set an emotional tone to start the year? Why?

Here are examples of opening day ideas from Wow! Adding Pizzazz to Teaching and Learning. Sixth grade middle school students find small bags labeled Survival Kit on their desks when they enter the classroom. The teacher assures them that while 6th grade English is demanding, they will survive. Students open the bags to find among other things, a small compass, lifesavers, and a band –aid. As they question their teacher, “What are these things for?”, they find the symbolism:

Compass is for finding direction…critical to quality writing. Lifesavers remind you I’ll be here when you need me. The band-aid can cover the grade on a writing that looks bloody (I respond in red) and allows you to do it over for a new grade. (pg37)

An elementary teacher has a gift wrapped box delivered to her classroom. As student curiosity rises, she informs them that sure enough it is a gift for them, but the note attached says the box cannot be opened until students identify the volume of the box. Several days of math are spent learning the necessary skills, as measuring uncover fractions. (pg36)

A high school social studies teacher who begins opening day with Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” states, “I’ll never start the year with rules again, catching them with a WOW- the first day was amazing and powerful. (pg42)

What ideas do you have for setting the desired climate for opening school?

How might we collaborate to set the tone?

Who does what? When?

These questions and examples generated a quick exchange of beliefs, practices, and ideas. What started as a modeling and practicing activity lead to decisions that set some first day plans into action. My experience shows that ACTION tends to motivate teachers to continue investing in PLCs.

Let me know if you experiment with the above.

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4 Responses to “ Planning First Day ”

  1. Chuck Bell Says:

    Thanks for the timely post, Steve. It brought back memories of a late 1990s professional learning session that you were facilitating in Gainesville, Florida (Go Gators!). I clearly remember your discussion of Tom Peters’ “Pursuit of WOW” and its connections to teaching and learning. We contrasted a “typical first day of school” with what it could be with the “WOW factor.” This is great stuff that I will certainly share with our staff during our days of pre-planning.

    Chuck Bell

  2. Ronni Says:

    Steve- Thanks for another WOW post. I just finished reviewing Madeline Hunter’s ITIP with my newly hired alternate route teachers (NJ). We spoke about the importance of the anticipatory set, that hook which excites the students to want to learn about the content of the day. Your First Day post which I will send out to all of my newbies will help them reflect on how they hook their students in for the year!

  3. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Chuck and Ronni

    Thanks for your comments and offer to share the blog with your teachers…
    If staff come up with ideas for WoWs
    I’d love to hear about them and pass on to others.

  4. Kevin Simpson Says:

    Steve- Great post! Enthusiasm and excitement are what students should experience every day. WOW activities will definitely add to the learning experience. Such power when inquiry, exploration and discovery are central in the classroom. Will share the book as a must have when working with schools in my travels.

    Kevin Simpson
    KDSL-Know Do Serve Learn

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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