The video of a teacher giving each of his students a “just for them” handshake each morning upon entry has gone viral. His efforts to connect with students have been applauded. I think that this is a wonderful way to create a bond between teacher and student; for THAT guy. I know that this is not “my thing”. If I were to choose to try this at the beginning of a new school year, it would not be genuine and it just wouldn’t feel right. I’ve also often wonder what happens when a parent wants a word in the morning, or someone forgot their backpack on the bus, or there is a class trip leaving 5 minutes after the bell. There are many ideas for connecting with students online, but you need to do what is genuine for you. Otherwise, you won’t sustain it and the students see right through it.
During the first few weeks of school I try to stay in my classroom while the kids eat lunch. I will often eat my lunch at the same time as my students so that I can have the other half of lunch to relax, visit with colleagues or do some preparation. I choose to do this for the first couple of weeks to make sure that the routines for lunch time are established and students understand my expectations around cleanliness, behaviour and technology use during lunch. There are often different teachers on lunch duty, so it is helpful for them if the regular classroom teacher is in the room until they become acquainted with the students. When I take the time and effort to do this at the beginning of the year I find that there are less issues throughout the school year at lunch time.
No matter what grade level, I have always started of my day chatting with kids. In a circle format the students can share something, check in, ask a question or some days they pass (I will personally check in later to make sure everything is ok). Sometimes we have topics, sometimes we have to discuss class updates but no matter what, we’ve connected in some way. Yes, it takes instructional time. Sometimes it takes up a LOT of time. But, in my experience, it builds relationships with your students and saves time in the long run.
Front End Load Communication
Parents’ concern for the well being of their children seems to be at its highest point at the beginning of the school year. It may be a new school, a new teacher, academic concerns from previous years or peer group concerns. Taking the time to communicate during the first week of the school year by phone, note or at least a personal email in addition to class updates on websites or newsletters home will pay off during the rest of the school year. The more you assure families that you are accessible and concerned about their child, the more supportive they will be if an issue arises. Find the good in each student and make sure that you communicate it to families. For the students that have academic or behaviour concerns, meet with families face to face as soon as possible. Do not leave it until report card time. I often start those conversations by asking them to voice their concerns, as well as asking their goals and hopes for their child for the school year. Those positive and proactive attempts at communication at the beginning of the school year will go a long way with families and ultimately will benefit the student.
Take Your Job Seriously; Don’t Take Yourself Seriously.
About 10 years ago I picked up a pair of absolutely crazy novelty sunglasses. No matter the weather, I wore them in the morning when I picked the students up at their bus lines and I wore them when I walked them out to their buses in the afternoon. There were always comments from the students (and sometimes parents) and it was often a conversation starter when I could see that kids needed to be checked in on first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. I began to get crazy sunglasses as gifts. I now have about 60 pairs and wear different ones depending on my mood. My staff humoured me and each wore a pair in the staff photo for the yearbook. This might be something that you try in your classroom, I’m happy to share, but make sure it is something that suits you.
I remember being told by a colleague at the beginning of my career that you shouldn’t smile at your students during the first few weeks or even until Christmas. I didn’t follow that advice, because it wasn’t genuine and authentic for me. The way I see it, if you aren’t smiling at the beginning of the year, you can pretty much be guaranteed that you won’t be smiling at the end of the year! Students feed off of the mood of the teacher. Ultimately, the teacher makes the weather in the classroom. There are days when I have to apply the “fake it until you make it” strategy and I smile until I really feel like smiling. I also highly recommend a morning music mix for the way to work. Put together 5 or 6 songs (or more depending on the length of your commute) that really motivate you, make you bouncy and make you smile. On the days where I know I’m tense, in a mood or haven’t slept well I put this on during my drive and usually by the end I’m singing along and feeling better. Then, I slide on those crazy sunglasses and I’m in tip-top teacher mode ready to greet every student with their name and a smile. I may not have individual handshakes ready to go but after 23 years…I still start the year off smiling.