Posted in Education, Sixth Grade, Students, Teaching

Day 1 of Academic Orientation: The Art of Setting the Tone

The first days of school are critical in terms of creating the culture of the classroom and school as well as setting the tone.  Teachers and administrators need to be clear, specific, caring, and firm to help create the educational and loving environment needed to allow students to grow and develop into fine young men.  If the teacher isn’t clear about the expectations and norms for the class, things can get out of hand very quickly.  If you allow it, you promote it, is a mantra my school took on last year to help instill the Core Values into the students, and is crucial to keep in mind when beginning a new school year.  If I allow one student to enter my classroom wearing a hat, then others will follow suit, and then all of a sudden I will have a room filled with misbehaving, hat-wearing, students.

While teachers want to foster a sense of community within their classroom every year, there is a fine line between caring and allowing.  It can be challenging to figure out how to be firm yet loving at times in the classroom.  I want the students excited about the new academic year, but I also want them to understand the rules and hold them accountable.  This is where things tend to get a bit tricky.  It’s like fishing in murky water.  What’s below the surface?  You don’t know until the sediment settles, hours to weeks later, and by then it’s too late to choose a new fishing hole.

Today I began my fishing adventure in the sixth grade classroom for the first of two days of Academic Orientation.  I tried my best to set a positive yet firm tone so that there were no murky spots to worry about.

I’m excited about the great group of students we have in the sixth grade this year.  It’s larger than last year’s class and I’m very pleased with that fact.  Ten students made for great challenges last year.  When the students grew frustrated with each other, there were only so many other students to work or hang out with.  With 14 students, there are plenty of options when relationships hit a rocky patch, as they often do.  The boys seem motivated to do well and have a lot of fun in the classroom this year.  As some of their personalities have already begun to surface, it’s easy to foresee some of the challenges that lay ahead.  One student seems to have difficulty working with others and so helping him learn how to be a team player will be a fun adventure, and one which I look forward to undertaking this year.  Our international student population seems to already have a better grasp of the English language than groups from years past.  This will make starting the year much easier.

To help create a sense of community while also setting a firm tone, I was careful when choosing my words today.  I wanted to be sure I used the affirmative form of rules and expectations.  Rather than saying, “Don’t do this,” I said, “Do this.”  I’m hoping that this change will help the students see the possibilities that exist rather than pigeonholing them into only a few options.  I referenced the Core Values as the reason why we do what we do in the sixth grade.  I want the boys to see the value and purpose in everything we do in the classroom.  Rather than spoon-feeding them information, I usually began each activity with a question.  I wanted the boys to identify the why of what we were doing.  Why do we have rules?  Why should we build a strong community?  I was very careful to ensure that I said just what I meant and explained the purpose of everything.  I didn’t rush through activities just to get them done.  I told the boys that the clock in the room is a guide and not the leader.  If classes or activities don’t remain within the confines of their assigned time, it’s okay.  In the sixth grade we have flexibility to change our schedule to suit the needs of our students.  I informed the boys of this twice throughout the morning to help them understand how our program works.  It’s fluid like a meandering river.  I also made it clear to the students that we want them to fail and make mistakes as that is where genuine learning takes place.  Problem solving can only happen if there is a problem to solve.  I’m hopeful that some of what we discussed today stuck with them.  Yes, I know we will have to continuously reiterate these ideas throughout the year, but I believe we laid a strong foundation for the rest of the year today in the classroom.  The students seemed excited and happy as they left, and after a busy first day, that’s a great sign.

I held the boys accountable and corrected behavior that went against our Core Values and Class Norms.  I took care in the language I used when I did this, but setting a firm tone to create a healthy atmosphere of learning is vital during the opening days of school.  As I told the students earlier today, safety is the base of the pyramid of fun.  Without safety, nothing good is bound to come.  That was the line I referenced throughout the morning when redirecting students or helping them understand the class expectations.  While it takes much effort to foster a positive and caring environment in the classroom, it makes all the difference.  If we want our students to grow into kind young men who will lead meaningful lives in a global society, then we need to start the year well with everything we’ve got, and I believe my co-teacher and I did just that today.  Yah for us!

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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