10 Things to Do In Your First 10 Minutes with Students
It goes without saying that first impressions matter. Your approach to and execution of the first 10 minutes in your classroom are very important. The following list is intended to help you make it count.
1. Post your name, room number, grade level, subject, daily objective, and a welcome.Having this posted allows students to make sure they’re in the right place, know what they’ll be driving after for the day, and see that you are prepared for them.
2. Shake hands or high five. Stand outside of your classroom and welcome your kids with a handshake or high five. You need to show your students right off the bat that you respect them and want to have a personal relationship with them. You also want to show that you’re not afraid to initiate that connection with them. Some kids will probably refuse, so determine in advance how you want to deal with kids that try to blow past you without even acknowledging your existence. Will you let it slide this time and wait for them to come around or will you require the greeting before allowing entry into your room?
3. Smile. With a warm grin, welcome your students and tell them how happy you are to be their teacher. Most of us have probably heard the “don’t smile until Christmas” advice, but if you want to model that school is a pleasant place where learning happens with joy, then you have to show them that you are happy to be there too.
4. Be firm. While you need to model joy, you also need to model order. “If you give an inch, they’ll take a yard,” so correct behavior swiftly and firmly. Of course, this requires knowing upfront what you will and will not tolerate – so make a list of 5-10 things you absolutely will not allow on your first day (sitting posture, dress code, gum, food, touching others, grooming, etc.) and hold strong to those. You can always add more so don’t worry if your list isn’t entirely comprehensive yet. Showing that you mean business on some things is a powerful reminder to your students that you are in charge and that you aren’t afraid to hold them to your standards. [Side Note: While you need to be firm, make sure your reaction/discipline is proportional to the offense. For example, if a student is chewing gum and you haven’t even gone over that rule yet, there’s no need to unleash the wrath of hell upon them. Politely tell them that gum is not acceptable in your classroom and pass around the trash to allow all students with gum to throw their piece away. On the other hand, you will inevitably be much more punitive if a student is physically or verbally abusive toward another student.]
5. Have a clear seating chart available. Make sure your students know exactly where to sit on their first day. With a clear seating chart you will avoid chaos, wasted time, and a spoiled first-impression. You will also ease the burden of taking attendance and learning names (see #9 below). Be sure to have a contingency plan in the likely case that you have extra students.
6. Have a purposeful first assignment ready. Students need to know that your class is, first and foremost, a place of learning. If you hold your students accountable for completing an assignment within the first 10 minutes of class, you reinforce that expectation. That said, nothing kills the joy of learning like busy work. Make sure the assignment is purposeful and aligned to whatever your objective is for the first day. Perhaps you have your students make a list of the things they most like about your room, 5 things everyone should know about them, or 5 questions they’d like to ask you. Maybe you have them reflect on their summer or last school year. Whatever it is, make it short, hold students accountable for completing it, and make sure you use it (see #7 and #8).
7. Give your students an opportunity to talk to each other. Again, your classroom is, first and foremost, a place of learning – and learning happens most meaningfully when students interact and learn with each other. If you give students an opportunity to discuss within the first 10 minutes of class, you send the message that you expect them to take control of their learning and that you expect them to use each other to fuel that learning. This might seem daunting, but take a deep breath. You don’t have to let them talk for an hour. A quick minute or two is perfect as long as you first set clear parameters for what you expect out of that discussion time. I like “think-pair-shares” or “turn-and-talks” because students get to think on their own (see assignment in #6 above), pair up and share, and then bring their thoughts to the group.
8. Introduce yourself and explain why you are there. Whether they show it or not, students are going to be interested in you. Tell them who you are, where you come from, what you’re interested in, and, most importantly, why you are their teacher. Students are much more likely to open up to you if they feel comfortable with who you are. It’s also important that they understand why someone like you wanted to come to their school – so share your story.
9. Take attendance. As much as you will be dying to know who’s who, it’s likely that there will be several stragglers on the first day, so wait a few minutes before you take attendance (unless your school demands otherwise). When you do take attendance, determine how to pronounce names – first and last – correctly. This process can be awkward, but the way you handle it communicates to your students a lot about who you are. Be respectful of their names and don’t let other students derail this process with snide remarks or snickers.
10. Communicate positive expectations. Before getting into rules and consequences, briefly let your students know that you have high expectations and that, while you all have a long road ahead, you are confident that this will be an amazing learning experience for them. Set a positive tone right away.
Bonus: Be patient. There will probably be seven million interruptions on the first day. Roll with them and don’t get too frustrated if things don’t fall into place exactly as you had planned. Think long and hard about the list above and adapt it to what you want to be true about your classroom. The more concrete your vision is for the first day, the more adaptable you will be when schedules change, students filter in and out, and announcements interrupt that great conversation your students were having. Be confident that the right things will happen in your classroom if you know what you want to see and remain relentlessly committed to achieving that vision.