Thursday, August 21, 2014

One Chance

You only get one chance to make a first impression.   So true, and never more true than on that momentous occasion that rolls around once a year: Open House, Meet the Teacher, Back-to-School Night… Whatever you call it, you only get one chance.  One chance to lock eyes with that nervous child who doesn’t know you yet and make them feel welcome in this little world you call “our” classroom… 

They are ALL nervous, no matter how they feel about school, because they know WE hold THEIR future in OUR hands.  To a child, a school year is an eternity.  Countless hours looking at YOU, listening to YOU, learning from YOU, being held accountable to YOU… that’s a lot of power YOU and I have.  This is their first chance to gauge us, decide how that’s probably going to go and with what attitude they’re going to approach it.  They’ll base that attitude on our attitude…the atmosphere we set, the way we treat them, the feeling they have as they take this first step into “our” classroom.  You only get one chance to make a first impression.  Make it count.

Here are some ideas, taken straight from what’s going to happen in the little world I call my classroom this evening:

Set the Stage     
Carefully consider the display outside your classroom.  I always have my students from the previous year help me prepare.  Who better to put my new students’ minds at ease about the upcoming school year than those students who have survived a year with me and lived to tell about it?  ;) I've tried several different activities over the years: letters to the new fourth graders, top 10 lists, photo collages, etc. but the last couple of years I’ve used my favorite: the Top 4 Things About 4th Grade.

Who Doesn’t Love a Present?     
The past few years, I’ve set up a small gift on each child’s desk.  Sometimes I use treat bags or boxes from the party aisle at Target that match my polka dot class theme, but this year I found paper cups at Dollar Tree.  Inside, there are a couple of pencils, a few stickers, a Tootsie Roll pop, a homework pass, a bookmark, and a reading poster that I got free from Scholastic with my last class order.  I’ve learned to stay on the lookout for items that will work well for my Back-to-School welcome presents which makes them easy and cheap to put together when the time comes. 

Make It Personal     
The last item in the welcome gift is a letter from me to the student telling about our class and how I feel about being their teacher.  I always make sure to address each letter with the child’s individual name to make it feel more personal.  One day I’d like to be together enough to handwrite these, but for now this will do.  It’s a good way to start forming that one-on-one relationship with the child and to make sure they realize Open House is as much about them as it is about their parents.

Keep Them Busy    
We spend a lot of our time at Open House chatting with parents, as we should.  The problem is while the kids are standing their awkwardly listening, they get more and more nervous and fidgety, which is not the feeling we want them to leave with.  Therefore, make sure to have activities around the room for the kids.  Ideas include:

Teacher Trivia
I reveal the answer on the first day, then have the kids play a similar game where they have to come up with one truth and one lie about themselves.

Online Survey
I used SurveyMonkey to set this up for the first time this year.  I plan to have it pulled up on all four of my classroom computers.  It’s entirely anonymous, and on the first day we’ll look at the results together to get a feel for the personality of our class.

Free Samples
We subscribe to Scholastic News each year and I always order a couple of extras in case I get new students.  I save these extras if they aren’t needed and put them out on a table for students to choose one to take home from Open House.

Interactive Board Display

If you have a Smartboard or Promethean board, don’t just leave it turned off for Open House.  Choose something to display that will catch your students’ attention.  I used to run a Powerpoint of “Frequently Asked Questions” and now that I’ve started using Class Dojo for behavior management, I display our Class Dojo and the kids check out their avatars.  Whatever you choose to display will become a focal point and a conversation starter for students and parents.

Sometimes it feels like I spend as much time (or more) planning for those two hours of Open House as I do for those seven hours of the first day of school, but it’s worth it to see those shy, nervous smiles turn to relieved and excited smiles before my eyes.  Here’s to hoping these tricks will help create some of the same magic in your classroom this week!

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