Want to Have a Sweet Start to the School Year? Simple Tricks to Use the First Week

Get off to a sweet start by having kids come up with their own procedures and expectations, and be sure to use this cool twist!
I wish I could say that the words "back to school" make me excited enough to wave some pom-poms. But I'd be lying through my teeth.

The truth is, prior to the first day of school, I'm filled with fear and trepidations, resulting in terrible nightmares. I worry that I've lost my teaching mojo. I worry that I won't have "control" of my classes. I even worry that I won't like the kids and they won't like me.

Do you have those same concerns? I bet you do. And here's the kicker. Our students face similar fears.

Sounds like fun, right? We're going back to school and everybody is scared witless.

I'm not going to tell you the anxiety is ridiculous. Unfortunately, all of those disturbing thoughts are real possibilities.

But I AM going to tell you two simple and powerful activities that you can do to during the first week of school to make sure these fears get kicked to the curb.

You will, in fact, have a sweeeeet start to the school year.

This first suggestion might sound a little unorthodox. I'm not sure about that. All I do know is that I will never ever begin another school year without doing this simple back to school activity.

1. Put the Kids in Charge of YOU by Creating a Teacher Contract

Really. Hear me out. This is how and why it works.

One of the first things I do is to ask the kids what my role is in the classroom. Once we establish that I am there to facilitate learning, I put the kids in pairs and give them a stack of post-it notes. I ask them to come up with the following:

  • five ideas about what they need me to do to optimize learning 
                        and/or 
  • five ways I can help them do their personal best.

Then I ask each group to choose the three most important "requests" and write on the back why it is important.

Those first days we go back to school don't have to be boring! Have kids come up with their own procedures and expectations, and be sure to use this cool twist!
One at a time, I start going through the sticky notes. We discuss each idea's merits and we put aside vague ideas. If more than one group has the same need or request, that item makes it into my contract.

The first time I did this, I was certain that there would be kids who made ridiculous demands, such as "We need you to bring us donuts every Monday," or "You can help us by giving us all 100s."

Boy, was I wrong. The kids are so earnest about tackling this responsibility that it blows me away every time.  

This simple task sets a tone for the school year and makes a HUGE difference in our teacher/student relationships. Let me tell you why.

First of all, middle school kids see themselves as getting bossed around a lot by their parents, teachers, sibling, and even each other. This is their perception, their reality. And now, they are in charge.

The table is turned so that they are in control of their learning and they understand that I am sincerely interested in doing everything in my power to help them succeed. 

Kids respect that. They are honest and direct about what they need and long for. For example, a common contract term is "Let us earn a higher grade if we do poorly on a test."

Here's the interesting part. I allow rewrites and test corrections on almost every assignment. 

But these kids don't know that yet because I just met them! So now we discuss this contract item and I can say: How about if I allow test corrections and rewrites? 

The kids are thrilled with that! So now I've done two things. I've told them about test corrections without the boring procedures lecture. AND I've let them see that they have a voice in what goes on in our class.

Best yet, they begin to trust me. They know right off the bat that I'm not one of those teachers who is "out to get them." They see that I want to succeed in helping them succeed. Sweet!

It also shows me what they fear. In fact, it put their fears on the table in such a way that the fear loses a bit of power. "Here I am," says the fear, "Look at me. Face me. You aren't alone."
I always start the new school year by trying to establish positive relationships with my kids. This is the BEST back to school idea I've ever used!

I take the contract very seriously, and I sign the bottom, just like all of the contracts they have to sign as students. On Back to School Night, when the parents come to learn what the class is all about, I always display my contract and tell parents that their children created it.

Here's a confession. Showing the contract to the parents always makes me tear up. In fact, I'm sniffling right now just thinking about it. It is humbling to see in writing what kids really want from us as teachers. After all, they just want what we all want, to be treated fairly and for us to believe in them.

I always point out to the parents how sweet the kids are for coming up with such heartfelt and reasonable terms. And I explain that the kids- their awesome children- didn't take advantage of the task by asking for silly items and requests to be included! If any contract can win a prize for being fair, this would win, hands down.

Judging by the feedback I've gotten, the parents love the contract. It shows them that I respect their child, as a person and as a learner. As parents, isn't this what we want of our kids' teachers?

2. Put the Kids in Charge of Creating Their Own Expectations Chart

Those first days we go back to school don't have to be boring! Have kids come up with their own procedures and expectations, and be sure to use this cool twist!
Using the same process, we then create a student expectations chart. My contract has already been made and signed, so now the kids know they also have to meet their end of the bargain if this is to be a two-way relationship.

Many teachers already have the kids come up with their own rules, and I've done it that way for years too. But kids never took it as seriously as they have since I've been asking them to write my contract first. I can't say why, but I suspect that it has something to do with the kids buying into the idea that ours is a safe classroom where some serious learning takes place. And they know that it's going to take work on their part, as well as mine.

Relationship building is the key to success in the classroom, which I wrote about here. I always find that once I establish a solid foundation made from trust and respect, my own fears of failure fade away. 

This Back to School Escape Room provides an awesome way to get the school year off to a brilliant start! Kids will work to escape, while using a variety of skills. All I have to do is a quick set-up and then sit back while they use their problem solving skills to learn about growth mindset, study skills, and more!
And I'm sure that the fears of my students fade away also.

Now that is delicious, friends.
   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
*I'm very excited about this, so I have to share!

If you are looking for a fun way to have kids come up with the rules, in addition to teaching some growth mindset and study skills concepts, take a look at this Back to School Escape Room. It's a fun and motivating way to start the year!

Are Escape Rooms new to you? Read all about them here.







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