First Impressions Count

Here I write some of my thoughts as I head into the new teaching year. I recently received a message from a newly qualified teacher who was filled with anxiety about her first week at a new school. It got me thinking…

We can go a long way towards alleviating the generalised anxiety that goes with anticipating a new school year after a long summer break by focussing on the first lesson.

First impressions are inordinately powerful. The impression we make in those first moments of the year will set the tone for its entirety. Most teachers know this, but this fact needn’t be a source of anxiety. Instead use this opportunity to set the scene for a brilliant year to come. I offer you a loosely co-ordinated list of what I will be doing to make a good impression on my classes this year:

  • Greet them all at the door with a friendly handshake
  • Take the time to have a decent chat: share my plans for the year, listen to theirs, share some laughs and personal experiences and make some resolutions. We’ll keep a record of these at the front of our books/blogs.
  • Relay my vision of what makes a ‘good man’. (I teach in a boys’ school)
  • Present to them, in a form that will make it accessible, my updated pedagogy “This is what I care about in learning, this is why I care about it, this is what it will look like in the classroom, and this is how its success (or otherwise) will be measured.” I’ll be asking for their critique of this. (This will establish right from the start that I think about their learning and that what we do happens for a reason.)
  • Replace talk of rules with talk of relationship and responsibility.
  • Write or call home within the first week with an observation of something positive
  • Start the learning programme quickly, embarking on challenging work.
  • Select three specific areas for new innovation and development, and commit, to the students, to fully engaging with these.
  • Explicity commit to doing my best, to being open to criticism and (therefore) learning and to listening at least as much as I talk.

Posted by Christopher Waugh

  1. Year 7, Friday period 3! Booooooooom!

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  2. I’d like to go back to school and be in your class. It sounds brilliant. I don’t have any regular large classes, just short term/sporadic small groups, but at the beginning of a project I tend to ask them to write down anything they think they’re good at and do the same thing at the end of the project and see if anything’s changed or moved on.

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  3. What age group are you teaching with these intro ideas? I like them but wonder if my class will be mature enough for it…

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    1. The students I teach range from 11-18 years of age. It’s interesting, sometimes I’ve felt that the younger the students are, the better they are able to grasp concepts of “how we learn”. Obviously analogy is helpful. With younger students I sometimes refer to the scenario of having guests into my house. I say my classroom is like a home, and as the host I want to make everyone feel welcome and respected – but on the other side, when you visit someone’s home, you show great sensitivity to them too. It’s a great way to talk about the relationship or transaction of the classroom. I ask them, “When you’re at a dinner table and there are a lot of people, does everyone have to put their hand up to be heard? Or do they only summon everyone’s attention when they’ve got something important to say?”. That kind of reframing goes a long way to helping younger people understand the ideas behind a positive classroom. I know many primary classrooms that run on cultures like that and they’re a joy to be in. How old are the students you teach?

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