The First Negative 1 Minute
It's August and school is starting up so it is time for the annual debate on procedures vs. relationships on the first day. First of all, let's be clear, the answer is both. One doesn't exist without the other. The question then is really one of emphasis. Each year that passes I tilt further and further toward relationships and I think I have pretty good reasons why. I'll share those reasons (yes, they involve Disneyland!) and an update on what my first day now looks like.
First, here's a short clip from Office Space. I teach 7th grade. My kids are new to having 6 teachers (they have some rotation in elementary but not much) and I have to imagine at the end of their first day they feel a bit like Peter.
Our kids essentially have 6 news bosses. If they spend the majority of their day hearing rules and consequences from all of them we have succeeded only in sucking the motivation out of them. Even if that is just 10% of each class can you imagine their feeling? I hate listening to rules and norms for 5 minutes ONCE at the beginning of a Professional Development workshop. I'm an adult. Trust me. If I mess up, correct me. Can't we treat our kids the same way?
MR. ROUGHTON YOU MADMAN! THAT WOULD LEAD TO UTTER CHAOS!
Would you describe Disneyland as utter chaos? (Okay, some people might, but they're wrong, let's just accept that.) When you walk in the front gate at Disneyland you are not told the rules. You are not even given the rules. They certainly don't say "here are the procedures for asking to use the rest room in Adventureland and here are the procedures for doing so in Tomorrowland. Pay close attention because they are different!"
Instead, you enter the park and you explore. You go where you want, how you want, when you want. Still, we all know the rules are there. Don't steal from vendor carts. Don't cut in line. Don't pull Pluto's tail. Disneyland trusts their guests to act civilly. When they don't security is there to step in. The park is frequently rated among the safest and cleanest theme parks in the world. Guests (generally) take care of their own trash and act kindly to one another. All without any signed slips by mom and dad.
Before I go any further let me be clear, like Disneyland, I am very strict when it comes to behavior. My classroom is intensely directed. I make my own seating charts. I think flexible seating is kind of ridiculous and the idea of allowing kids to make their own rules for a room makes little to no sense to me. I'm not advocating for a New Age, procedureless classroom. I'm simply arguing that a huge majority of our kids, especially at the secondary level, know how to be students and we should trust them to do so. When we do they will largely impress us. I have very few discipline problems in my classroom. I've written one discipline referral in the last three years. When kids break a rule I can correct the behavior quickly with a reminder that I want to trust them to be students. I've proven it. It isn't just words. They buy in.
So, how do we set that tone?
It starts at minute negative one (or like -4 if your kids walk fast.)
I've long been satisfied with my first few minutes of my first day - but that doesn't mean it couldn't improve. This year I really wanted to Disneyfy the experience. I spent a great deal of my 10 Days at Disneyland this summer paying close attention to the entry experience for each park and attraction. I noticed pretty quickly that they actually have quite a few rules for each. In the case of the attractions the rules are communicated via visual signage and audio warnings. Here's a couple examples of the signs:
The audio spiels vary from attraction to attraction but share some characteristics - your hands, arms, feet and legs (or manos brazos pies y piernas of course!) must stay inside the vehicle at all times for example. They just play in the background as you wait in line. When you end the line that's it - you ride. There's nothing to sign, no Kahoot quiz, just the assumption that you heard it and will follow it.
Could we follow these models with our classrooms? Nope. We can't. End of blog. End of website.
Oh wait... we can?! Okay, bring on the magic.
One of the difficulties my students faced was how far my room was away from everything. If I opened the door to greet kids (which I did) they couldn't see the small painted room number on the door. So, I had to stand awkwardly with the door half open blocking them from seeing me. A big, artistic sign sure would be more welcoming...
This is now the first thing my students will see down the hall. Much more welcoming than a solid green door among a see of solid green doors!
When they do make it to the room I line them up outside. This was also somewhat awkward as they just stood there waiting for the rest of the kids to arrive. I made some small talk with them but it was really possible to engage with all of them. I needed an audio spiel!
The final version plays over the theme from Soarin' Over California and includes a Spanish reading as well. It plays 3 times over the 5 minute passing period with the music filling in the gaps. It didn't work perfectly as the hallway is loud on the first day but it certainly helped set the tone and feel I wanted and definitely more than the awkward standing.
Along the wall I added some more Disney flair with attraction posters based on my various lesson types in the class. They help tease out a bit more of the audio spiel's descriptions.
Now there's some magic!
But I had one more Disney trick ready to go. Last year I went on a tour at Disneyland and one thing that stood out was that our guide Nicole called us all by name. Now, admittedly, we had nametags which helped but she wasn't noticeably checking them. Part of her role as our guide for the day was to be part of our group. Using our names helped. She also joined us for lunch afterwards. It really made the tour experience all the better. So, I made it my goal this year to learn the names of my AVID kids before the first day. I wasn't ready to commit to learning all 150 kids but 30 seemed doable. It was. I had their pictures in our gradebook system, printed out a page with them and had them down in a weekend. Greeting them by name certainly surprised them and made my class stand out all the more.
And it all happened before the bell even rang. Once class started I did my same First Day that I've outlined before, complete with the highlight of the attraction - a field trip to my car.
That highlight moment is a true sign of trust. If I'm willing to trust them with my car they believe me that I really do trust them to be students. I've done this for years now and never had a problem. This year they even found two giftcards stuck in there I didn't even know about. They were both still there at the end of the day. Everything went well all day long. We need to Know our Audience and know that they know how to be students. My AVID class, in particular, felt like a class from much later in the year. Knowing them by name was huge. I even had 10 kids join me for lunch on the very first day. That never happens. It usually takes awhile for them to get comfortable. Not, this time.
The 2019-2020 year is off to an amazing start. I can't wait to see where it ends up!