Uh-oh, how many days left?

Gosh, how time flies! It feels only yesterday when your students all flew excitedly out of your classroom door, eager to begin their school break. You, on the other hand, have been busy turning in reports, re-structuring your classrooms and some of you did not even have a ‘real’ break at all as you had to be in school to earn your master’s or doctor’s degree. And now you realize you only have less than week left before the new School Year starts!

Feeling stressed yet? I sure hope not, but here is an easy way to instantly relieve stress and it works like magic. I’m going to share with you this trick and other free tools you can download and use in class later in this post. Let’s do this before we dive in to the 4 sure fire ways to start the school year right – take a deep breath in, hold it a bit, and exhale through your mouth. Feeling better? Take three more and as you inhale, take in all the wonderful opportunities and possibilities coming your way this new school year. As you exhale, let go of all thoughts, feelings and things that no longer serve your evolution. Focus on the positive things that you expect to receive as you inhale, visualize each one and be as vivid with your imagination as you possibly can and you will end this exercise feeling a lot better.

Feeling better now? If you are, then let’s go over the four ways to start the year right.

No. 1 Build Rapport. I met a few teachers who say at Day 1 of the new school year, they begin with their lessons right away because this is what they were told. I was like, huh? No getting-to-know-you ceremonies and write-your-name-on-the-board stuff and just leave your students to make friends (or frien-emies) on their own at the end of the day?

It’s one thing to communicate to them that you mean business, but how about allowing them and yourself some time to warm up a little and get comfortable with the new classroom environment? With you? In a roomful of learners coming from different family backgrounds it’s very easy to have a group of young people with different ‘social temperatures’ and undoubtedly majority of these kids have been strolling on auto-pilot all summer long (unless they had parents who micro-managed their summer days and made sure home was like an army training camp). How can we expect them to be ready to pay attention to you and take in what you have to teach them on Day 1?

They say capture the heart first and then the mind. Young learners learn better in a friendly environment so go ahead, be fearless in making the first move to befriend your students. There are teachers, especially in the public school system where the teacher-student ratio often goes as high as 1:65, who would rather be feared than be liked. Do I need to say more about this?

There is a way to make friends with your students without encouraging them to feel so familiar with you they no longer expect you to discipline them anymore. Discipline is crucial in maintaining a child-friendly classroom environment (more on this topic in the next posts).

So go ahead! It should take no more than fifteen minutes to introduce yourself and get them to say hello to the other students near them; they don’t even have to go around the room anymore. Investing in a few minutes to do this at the very start of the year can go a very long way when it comes to building the right relationship with your students that lasts a whole year long – or even a lifetime.

No. 2 Lay Down the House Rules at Day 1. Why Day 1 and not Day 2? So that everyone is guided and the incident of student misbehavior is lessened. Based on experience, students perform better when they know what is expected of them and teachers can focus more on their daily lessons when they know what to do when a situation arises. What would you do when, in the middle of a lecture, one student suddenly feels ‘playful’ and hits the student in front of him with his left shoe? The victim not only cries; she freezes in anger and passes out while the rest of the class burst out in laughter and your classroom is miles away from the School Disciplinarian’s Office.

When students have a clear knowledge of what specific behaviors are expected of them and of what happens when they break the rules, chances are unpleasant situations like this are minimized. May I suggest getting your students involved in creating the classroom rules and regulations. Getting them to participate in crafting the rules gives them a sense of accountability and they are likely to respect the rules that they themselves created. It doesn’t have to be a long list or an entire school handbook. The longer the list, the more likely they are to forget them, so stick to a handful of values you wish your students to uphold in your classroom.

Here is a suggested list of house rules you might like to copy or build upon. It’s not a standard, of course, but you can modify it to suit your group of learners:

The above rules are actually written on the positive. You can write rules like these beginning with a “NO” such as no lying for No. 1, no drinking alcoholic beverage, no smoking, no taking of prohibited drugs and no coming to school under the influence for No. 5, and no sensual misconduct for No. 4, if you like. But personally, I like to dwell more on the positive.

Now, there is a reason why this is No. 2 in our guide. If we skip No. 1 and go straight to No. 2, we would not have had prepared our students emotionally and psychologically in receiving our house rules. As we know, children love to live a life without limits. Who doesn’t? But it will be in their best interest – and ours, too – if they learn early on which behaviors are appropriate and acceptable and which ones are not and we can only teach these to them in a pleasant, friendly environment. Remember, the heart first and then the mind.

No. 3 Form an Alliance Forged in Fire with the Parents. In educating our children, the parents are perhaps the school’s best allies – if dealt with properly. Undeniably, there are parents who, in their single-minded pursuit of ways to bring food to the table, can only be too happy to send their kids to school and let the teachers do the teaching, disciplining, encouraging, motivating, etc. The list can go on and on. They get up at the crack of dawn, pack their breakfast and lunch and run off to work in the fields, leaving behind their kids to grab breakfast on their own (if they care to have breakfast at all) and head to school. Others are kinder, and they wait to see their kids off to school before they head out into the fields to work. They assume their kids really are off to school.

The teacher, on the other hand, walks into the classroom and finds little Tony’s seat empty. There is no text message or letter from his parents and so she assumes maybe little Tony is home, sick.

This is not an uncommon scenario and if left unchecked can go on and on until halfway through the school year the class’ dropout rate has gone up beyond the teacher’s control. Save yourself from unnecessary headache by sharing the burden of checking on the little Tonys in your class by getting their parents involved.

One nice and easy way to do this is by assigning each student a ‘General Information’ notebook, on which you can tell them to write their reminders, list of what to bring to class next week, etc., but will actually serve as your communication channel with their parents! But don’t most parents have cellular phones already? Our house help has one and she can even do Facebook video calls on it. Sure, they have, but here’s how the general information notebook works:

Assign a section in that notebook called Parent’s Section or Parent’s Corner. In this section, you can write sweet short notes to parents about how their child performed at school that week. Be especially keen on focusing on the positive – parents love to hear positive things about their kids (I know, I’m a mom). But parents also need to be the first to hear whenever there are things their children need to improve on. So make the most of this corner to communicate to parents.

You can do this on Fridays so the students can bring their notebooks home and show them to their folks. Make sure to instruct each one to have their parents sign over their printed name at the end of your note and you can encourage them to write you back as well. You can also use this section to inform the parents of your Class Consultation Schedule and invite them over to school so won’t have to do home visits that much.

Why a notebook that the student has to carry? This fosters transparency, honesty, trust and cooperation between the teacher, the parent and the student and lets everyone know that indeed it requires teamwork to educate a child.

(If you need help in designing the Parent’s Corner in your student’s General Information Notebook, you can get a printable copy of this small yet helpful tool, along with many other freebies you can use to help you save time and be school ready. You can print it on sticker paper and have your students stick them on a page in their notebook. Download your FREE TOOL KIT here)

No. 4 Let Day 1 Be “Free Candies Day”. First impressions last, that’s what they say. How about making a sweet first impression and let your students forever associate you with the sweetness of candies by giving away free candies on Day 1?

This reminds me of a teacher I had when I was in a young psychology student at a Jesuit University several years back. She not only did it on Day 1 but almost every other day! She would come to class with a basket decorated with red cloth and white lace, sort of like the one Little Red Riding Hood always carried around, and in that basket were dozens of sweets her students can eat for free before she begins her lecture. Not only did we come to associate her with sweet treats, we came to like the subject she taught as well!

You don’t have to buy an elaborately decorated picnic basket. A bowl from your kitchen will do. Go stand at the door of your classroom at Day 1 and welcome each student with a piece of candy and a warm smile on your face. This simple act of kindness tells them you are happy they are in your class and you would have created a beautiful first impression that hopefully would last a lifetime.

Did you enjoy these tips and find them helpful? We would appreciate it if you can help us in our mission of empowering classroom teachers and making their journey lighter and happier so they can focus on what they do best by sharing this with other teachers you know. Or if you have other tips and helpful suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

Have a good life and a beautiful School Year ahead!

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