Aug 13, 2014

Before You Enter - First Day Agreements

Ah, the joy of the first day of school.  The smell of new shoe rubber.  Parents transformed into paparazzi.  And the scent of freshly laundered children in brand new clothes.  The feeling of a brand new start is in the air.  And I like to capitalize on that from the second students line up at my door.  Before that first bell ever rings, I close my classroom door and put a tape half-circle on floor outside the door.  When I bring the kids in on that first day, I welcome them warmly, ask them to put their backpacks down along the way and gather around me on the tape half-circle in front of the door, right in the hall.  Kids are surprised.  Slightly confused.  I suddenly have their full attention.

And while those eager little faces are looking up at me, I kindly explain to them how important my classroom is to me.  It's where I spend half of my time, I tell them.  It's my second home, I say.  It's where I can go and feel safe, both emotionally and physically cared for, and I want them to feel the same (cue the Kleenex, as I always seem to tear up here).  I explain how important it is to me that my classroom stay upbeat and positive, that it be a place where all of us can safely take risks, try things we're not good at and make all kinds of mistakes.  In our classroom that can only be done with full positivity.  We have to support each other, encourage each other and help each other.  Because when it comes down to it, throughout the school, we're all we've got, we're a team and teams have to stick together (okay, slightly overdramatized, but the tears always well up at this point too).  And then I lean forward in my chair and ask them The Big Question: Can you agree to that?  Can agree to be kind?  Can you agree to be positive and not say negative things?  Will you agree to help others feel cared for, both their emotions and their body?  Can you agree to make our classroom the best place ever?  If you agree to this, will you show your commitment by shaking my hand, introducing yourself to me and then entering our special classroom.  At this point, and only at this point, I open my classroom door to them.  And these cute little kids transform from spazzy, excited, bouncing children to eager, respectful, grounded children ready to start the year off right.  

In 8 years of doing this, I've only had one student ever choose not to agree.  So...what to do?  Well, students had already been given the direction to hang up their backpack in the back, choose a desk and draw their name on it (see post here) and then sit on our colored rug.  Choosing and labeling a desk, alone, usually takes them a good 15 min., which gave me time to pop back out in the hall and talk to this student.  I asked him why he felt uncomfortable with our agreements and he shared with me concerns about his behavior in past years.  He said he always seemed to get in trouble for talking out and didn't know how to control it, so he knew he couldn't agree to be his best.  *My heart broke.*  But I'm so glad I knew this within the first 10 min. of the first day of school.  We quickly agreed to create a behavior plan together and I assured him that I would do all I could to help and support him, as long as he continued to try again each new day.  This he could agree to.  I asked if he could be kind to the other kids and help them when he saw a need.  This he could also agree to.  So after a short 3-min chat we both felt great about him being in our class and getting a fresh start.

This is all outside the box, I know.  People look at us curiously as they walk down the hall that morning, and other teachers ask me what I'm doing for so long after the bell, sitting in the hall with my kids.  And I'm excited to tell them all about the team-like feeling we have from the first moments, and how caring all my kids were to each other from the very first day.  I love it. This is the best way to start our year together, all on the same page.

*The key to this is my own genuine, heart-felt expression of what I picture our classroom environment to be.  The children can sense the sincerity in my tone and are able to buy in because they know I believe this myself.  No lecture, no stern face - just speaking wholeheartedly person to person, with respect.  


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