Ten Guiding Principles for the Beginning of the Year

The Ten Guiding Principles were developed to help teachers start the new school year off right with specific ideas for implementing them.
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Establish Classroom Rules

Begin to implement your discipline strategies and create a positive class climate that first day of class. This is the time to talk about and model a discipline system based on mutual respect, responsibility, and dignity. At no time will the students be better behaved than on the first day of class. Capitalize on their first-day formality. Collaboratively establish rules and then show the students you are consistent and fair in enforcing rules. This might be a time to explain the classroom meeting and have your first go at it. Middle school students can brainstorm the rules in small groups. Hopefully they will include some of these, but they may need your subtle (or not so subtle) suggestions:

  • Be in your seat when the bell rings.
  • Bring required materials, texts, and homework to class on time.
  • Raise your hand to speak and listen to others.
  • Respect each other's space, person, and property.
  • Be responsible.
  • Don't let infractions slide that first day. The kids will be checking you out carefully. You can always lighten up as the year progresses, so start out a bit more firm than you plan to be by midyear. Pass all of their tests with flying colors by using your own good sense. This is also the day to send home the note to parents (in translation, if needed) that describes the class rules and procedures for enforcing them.

    Orient Students

    We all need to get our bearings in a new situation. And even though a change of scenery can be broadening, it is also very scary. On most vacation tours, no matter how tightly or loosely scheduled, a quick orientation tour of every new city encountered is the first order of business. Students are no different in that they need to quickly get their bearings in a new school or classroom. The easiest way to orient new students, second language learners, and returning students to their school is to take a walking tour that first morning, pointing out such places of interest as the restrooms, water fountains, principal's office, and nurse's office. You may need to point out school bus stops, places to line up after lunch, the cafeteria, assigned fire drill locations, and appropriate exits. Let the students know what the bells or other signaling devices mean. With older children you can construct a school map together or organize a treasure hunt to help old-timers orient new children to the school plant. In middle and high school, review a map of the school site.

    In the classroom, schedule a walk around the room using just eyes that first day. Students can make a mental note of where storage containers are located, where games for free time are stored, and so forth.

    Preview the Curriculum

    On that very first day, let students in on some of the exciting things they will be learning this year. Preview some of the topics they will cover and introduce them to at least one of their textbooks that first day. Begin work early in the first week on a science or social studies unit and provide opportunity for student input by asking them what they already know about the topic and what they would like to find out. Motivation will be very high. Let kids know it's going to be an exciting year and that they will be learning many new things. Telling kindergarten or first grade children that they will learn to read this year, or third grade children that they will learn cursive writing, or sixth graders that they will have pen pals from a foreign country can send them home that first day brimming with high expectations and great anticipation for the coming year. Tell middle or high schoolers about a highlight of their year.

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