Reflections on the First Week

2013-08-30 16.11.31 Classroom Rules

It’s been a good week.  As I’ve heard about ten times in about ten different ways this week:  “Ain’t no tired like a teacher during the first week of school!”  Either I’m getting better at this, or I have a particularly calm group of lovelies this year, because instead of the usual whirlwind, I’ve been able to actually think about my choices this week and reflect on what happened.

I have two pieces of advice for myself for next year:  “Go fast.”  and…  “Go slow.”

Go fast with curriculum.  Start as many subjects as possible on day one.  Writers’ workshop, for sure.  “Read to self” for reading stations, yes.  Bell work for first thing in the morning.  Set a precedent of work.  At the end of the first day of school, the children should walk away with the message, “School is fun.  My teacher is nice.  I know where my locker is and who is in my class that I know from kindergarten.  But the most important thing about first grade is, this is serious, this is my job, and I am here to work.”  In the evening of day three, my principal walked in and asked if we were in books yet in writers’ workshop, if I had a couple that he could take to show kids, and I realized how awesome it was that I could say yes.  On day three.  I didn’t waste a minute before pulling authors out of these little 6-year-olds.  I wish I had done it better in math workshop as well.

Go slowly with procedures, rules, and community building.  Start with having the kids reading to self for 3 minutes on day one.  Do it a bunch of times in a row, with breaks in between the 3-minute increments, but don’t be tempted to jump to 20 minutes on day two.  Build stamina and habits.  Take the time to stop and solve problems.  Better yet, take the time to stop and ask the kids to solve each other’s problems.  A good teacher makes herself unnecessary.  Your goal is students who can navigate their own path through unexpected problems, both academic and social.  That’s the only way to actually have few interruptions to instruction time.

On Thursday afternoon, I melted down a little bit.  I got impatient with the class, and I threatened consequences that I don’t want to follow through with.  But I recognized that I was tired and my expectations for their behavior and independence were too high for the fourth day of school.  So I took a breath, and dug deep for some more patience and guidance.  And at the end of the day, we took an activity from day one, “What kind of classmates do you want?” and turned it into our classroom rules.  You can see what we came up with in the second photo.  I was impressed…with the kids’ thoughtfulness, with our comfort in sharing with each other, with the way we enjoyed each other’s company during the activity.  And I remembered how long it takes to build trust and connection and authentic compassion for one another.  It took four days to reach a point where we felt connected enough to agree on some standards for our school family.  It’s going to take a lot longer for us to feel connected enough to trust each other and reach a point where this feels easy.  On day four, I need to expect them to behave like people who have known each other for four days.  I need to go slow with the community building, so that we can actually build a community.

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