Be under no illusions: your first day with your students is the most important of all your days with them.
You see, day one is where you lay the foundations for appropriate student behaviour. Get day one right and you’ll be much more likely to get the rest of the year right too. It’s as important as that. Luckily, day one is also the day when your students are most primed to learn your way of doing things, most keen to make a success of the forthcoming year and, if the previous year didn’t go too well, most determined to turn over a new leaf. It’s a day, therefore, that deserves some extra attention from you. So, here’s ten top tips (nine dos and one don’t) to help you on your way.
1. Be in charge
Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to be terrifying, shouty or stern (counterproductive and unethical in equal measure), but you do have to demonstrate your dominance. In fact, students prefer teachers who are in charge. They rate them as more likeable and better at their job. So, find your inner boss and let him or her come to the fore. Work on how you hold yourself, what you say and how you say it. If you don’t think you have the confidence for such dominance, that nerves and anxiety will get in the way, there’s a simple solution. Fake it. Take a deep breath and fake it. You’ll still convince the students, and better still it won’t be long before you convince yourself too.
2. Be prepared
Have your lesson planned, your equipment checked and working, and your materials organised and at hand. If you’re prepared, you’ll exude calmness and control while at the same time freeing up mental space to deal effectively with any eventuality. Moreover, and more importantly, you’ll convey credibility. Credibility is vital, you see, because if your students believe in you as a teacher, then they’ll believe in themselves as students. They’ll believe that with you they can get a good education, and so will behave accordingly.
3. Use a seating plan
If you don’t know the class, arrange by surname or use the boy / girl option. Of course, these systems don’t totally guarantee that mortal enemies (or worse, friends) are seated apart, but it’s a good start. When you get to know the students, change it to suit your needs, never the students’.
4. Meet and greet in the corridor
Line the students up and then let them into your lesson one at a time. Say hello or smile a welcome. Hold back any student who is not ready to enter (e.g. noisy or has a uniform issue). As they enter, tell them to take a seat and start on the activity that is waiting for them (on their desk or the board). The activity, which only needs to be brief, helps regulate the beginning of the lesson while at the same time conveying that studious work is the norm in your lessons.
5. Use the 5 to 1 strategy
This can be either taught through explanation or, as I do, through the doing. Set the students on something that needs to be discussed. Slowly and with a bit of drama, count down from 5 to 1. When you get to 1, the students should be silent with eyes fixed on you. If one or two are not silent, do NOT begin talking until they are, but instead just look at the talkers. When they are silent, smile.
Use this strategy to bring to a close all student activities. Remember: never rush the count down and never start talking until you have secured their silence and attention. If you don’t have either, wait until you do.
6. Have a short in-silence writing activity
Short is good because it’s achievable. Over the coming weeks, increase the length of in-silence activities. What you are teaching here is the expectation that when you want your students to work in silence, that’s exactly what you get. End the in-silence activity with the 5 to 1 strategy.
7. Teach two routines
First, how to enter your classroom and second, how to leave. Use the ‘Do as I do’ technique. Model what you want them to do, get a few students to do what you want them to do, get the whole class to do what you want them to do. Go through both routines until each is perfect. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that you want orderly, smooth and silent. Add a degree of difficult to really make the students focus (e.g. not scraping any chairs, either when entering or leaving the classroom). Once you have got the students to do what you want them to do in the way that you want them to do it, insist that they do it every time. Why? Well, because a routine is only a routine when it’s habitual, and it only becomes habitual through repetition.
8. Mean it
Say things with the expectation that what you say will be followed. Train yourself to avoid saying ‘please’, but instead say ‘thank you’. So, not ‘pens down please’ or worse ‘please put your pens down’, but instead ‘pens down, thank you’.
9. Don’t over praise
I understand why you might want to: new class, start on a good footing, win them over. But if you do, you will be harming, not helping your classroom behaviour management. You see, you’ll be lowering the bar of your expectations, when actually you should be raising it. You’ll be communicating that doing the everyday and the commonplace is noteworthy of extra and special attention, when it’s not. What’s worthy of extra and special attention is extra and special behaviour. Sure, a polite ‘thank you’ for students doing the right thing is fine, but anything beyond that is disingenuous and a bit needy.
10. And lastly …
All of the above tips are an extension of the first one: be in charge. Being in charge is extremely important, but it’s equally important to show that you are a warm person. So be respectful, understanding and kind. Be proportionate with consequences and make sure you start every day with a clean slate. As the days progress, take an increasing interest in your students as individuals with lives outside of the classroom. Smiling helps too, as does a little fun. When it comes to behaviour management, the combination of dominance and warmth wins the day – whether it’s the first day or all the days that follow.
Article written by Robin Launder, from Behaviour Buddy