In education thus far I have celebrated 24 “First Days”!
13 as a student myself…five as a college student…and now six as an educator!
First days can produce a whole series of feelings and emotions, even though this is my 24th First Day, I still had those little butterflies in my stomach. I still vividly remember the night before I started student teaching with Mr. Vajnar and I expressed the nervousness I felt…he encouraged me by saying, “I’d rather see you be a little nervous and a tad stressed than feel you’ve just got it in the bag…it means you care and I can appreciate that.”
In all reality, First Days are pretty special…in one’s educational career, even ones who have spent numerous years in the profession, many of us will only experience 30 or so First Days. Most of the time First Days are spent visiting about housekeeping items, checking out textbooks, reviewing syllabi, and other necessary task list items. Yet, we should wonder aloud, if that is the most appropriate use of our shared First Days?
First Days present the opportunity to set context for the start of a new year. First Days present the opportunity to create an inescapable memory that will anchor the year for our students. First Days will (no matter what) begin the process of building a classroom and school culture. So again we must ask…how are we using our First Days?
We just wrapped up our first two days of school at Blue Valley and it was a memory making, culture building, and encouraging time with our students.
In my classroom, this Thursday was the first, “First Day” in our new Agricultural Education Center. Since we are still in the process of living in the facility, we had students in their first day take some ownership and care in helping fill in the blank walls of our new classroom. Each student, in each class is working on a poster that illustrates through drawings or magazine pictures they feel depict their initial thoughts on the class, what careers they think are related to the class, top three things they hope to learn or do in the class, and lastly, but most importantly capture one to two personal growth goals they want to accomplish in the year.
This “First Day” experience allowed me to:
- quickly identify some initial student understandings or misconceptions about course content that I can highlight as we move along in the year
- identify ideas for potential guest speakers or tour sites based on student career identifications on their posters
- opportunity to personalize some course content based on student interests or what they hope to do in the course
- and lastly I can help students hold themselves accountable to their own growth throughout the year
We still got through all the pertinent housekeeping items, but through this simple poster students were given the opportunity to be creative, work with their hands, learn about each other, think critically about the course they just enrolled in, all while building a collective classroom culture…I’d say it was a WIN – WIN – WIN!
On the second day as a whole school we decided to do something radically different than we have ever done before! It was identified last year that we needed to start shifting school culture among especially our high school students. From those conversations it spurred thinking out of the box on how we could go about beginning that journey and quickly!
As a small school we are presented with the unique potential to create experiences for our whole student body that our larger, near-by counterparts are unable to do. We took all Middle and High School staff and students for a team-building experience at Fort Riley for the entire day. We broke grades up with one to two students from each grade 5th – 12th with a randomly assigned staff member. Together the teams completed high ropes challenges and team-building tasks.
Having never done anything like this it was a growth opportunity for all of us as a staff and students. It was inspiring to see our older students take the younger ones under their wings and mentor them through various challenges/obstacles. Sharing encouragement with each other, speaking positively towards one another, and seeing our young students rise and surpass the challenges set before them, were powerful results of the experience.
First Days can be different. First Days can be meaningful. First Days can have impact.
As we all return to the start of this coming school year let’s be intentional in how we use these rare First Day opportunities! Let’s ask and challenge ourselves with the following questions:
- How can we leverage this First Day as an anchor for throughout the year?
- Are there unique ways we can present the shared expectations of the class?
- How can we begin building our desired classroom culture and learning community for the year?
- As a whole school are their potential ways to create community/culture-building experiences for our youth and staff?
Hope everyone has a blessed start to the new school year and enjoy these “First Days”!