George Lucas Educational Foundation

First Impressions Last: Start the Year Great

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Imagine going to the theater or movies to see a show. Now imagine if the first 45 minutes were filled with the director explaining his expectations, his outline of the story, when you should clap, what to look for, how to get in touch if you have questions, and when and where you can use the rest rooms. No one would buy that ticket.

When I go to a show,  I prefer an attention-grabbing opening scene that ignites my interest and has me on the edge of my seat. So why do so many teachers feel the need to begin their year with a mundane regurgitation of marginally important information? Is it habit, lack of vision, or an expected routine? I believe a little of each is true, but I also believe a gentle nudge to be creative should be encouraged (and can be contagious). Let's make that a part of the school's opening expectations.

The first action does not have to be an icebreaker activity, but even though students participate begrudgingly, it does help.  I often cringe while attending a professional development session and the instructor feels the need to get me out of my seat at 8:00 a.m. to hop around or play a guessing game. I just want to ease into the day with a cup of coffee. Although, after I participate I usually enjoy it. Usually.

When I wear my student "hat", I get a sense of what the class will be like by our first session.  I'll decide if it's going to be a long year or a challenging, fun one.

So what should teachers do? 

  • Set the tone for learning by beginning with a great lesson or activity tied to what the students will be learning. It should be short, exciting, fun and challenging. It can be content specific and derived from the curriculum.
  • Make sure the lesson is student-centered. They should do the talking, interacting, and presenting. Incorporate movement as often as possible, especially if you teach the younger ones.
  • Feel free to involve other teachers and classes in your wing, department, grade level or section.
  • Be empathetic. Would you want to sit through class after class of teacher-led explanations? Kids do know how a classroom runs, trust me.
  • Save the review of the syllabus for the middle or end of class. Or better yet, make a short screen cast and post the video for students to watch. A short quiz (online) to ensure they read the important information will suffice.
  • You CAN begin the year without going over the year first! Save the boring stuff for day two!

Remember, set the tone for learning, not just compliance!  Have a great year.


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Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

hejames1008's picture
hejames1008
A former educator who will always remain interested in the field and have an opinion.

J.P., this is great advice for both the first-time and the returning teacher! I played both roles in my short tenure as a teacher, and I wish I had this advice when I was teaching. I also wish I had access to the technology that is available today, as some of your suggestions would not have worked when I was teaching more than 10 years ago -- at least not in the rural schools in which I taught. Today, technology makes education so much more creative. At least, it can when educators like you are willing to innovate and to share.

J.P. Ryan's picture
J.P. Ryan
The person first, then everything else

Thanks for sharing. I bet you did a great job regardless of the technology!

hejames1008's picture
hejames1008
A former educator who will always remain interested in the field and have an opinion.

I certainly tried! I was the first teacher to use blogging in the English classroom in the last school in which I taught. It was a semi-rural school and an accelerated sophomore classroom. It was a lot of fun. I certainly miss sharing wisdom with the kids!

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

J.P -- I love your suggestions. One thing that I would add is that while first impressions are important, it's equally essential to think about Day 2. I have seen a lot of teachers put thought and effort into their first they lesson but fall back on having the students take notes or lecture by Day 2.

(1)
hejames1008's picture
hejames1008
A former educator who will always remain interested in the field and have an opinion.

Brian, what a great point about the second day. I certainly never thought that far ahead other than getting out of jury duty once because it was going to be the first week of school and there was no way I was going to let a substitute establish my classroom management.

J.P. Ryan's picture
J.P. Ryan
The person first, then everything else

Yes Brian, great point. I have too! Thanks for the read.

Scott Bedley @scotteach's picture
Scott Bedley @scotteach
Teacher, Creator, Un-Maker, Foodie, Global School Play Day

Such an important idea J.P.! Even rethinking how things like syllabi are presented after those first few days seems like it would be a great idea. There are some great business based books that talk about creating culture and how establishing that culture early in an organization is vital because it can be a great challenge to change once it's established. Thanks for a great post. I intend to share it a lot!

(1)
J.P. Ryan's picture
J.P. Ryan
The person first, then everything else

Thank you Scott. Small but important subtleties in presentation have a powerful impact. You keyed in on the important topic of creating a culture. It is certainly a crucial part to building a strong and productive environment.

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