The First Day of School


As Students Walk In

In order to set the tone for the year, I want to make sure students start doing math right away. Therefore, a warm up paper with problems from the students’ previous year is waiting as they walk in. The warm up also serves the purpose of keeping them busy while I stand at the door to greet.

As each student approaches the room, I shake his or her hand, look him in the eye, and say, “I’m Mr. Ehlert, what’s your name?” From there, I ask what name they prefer to go by and how to pronounce it. Then, I tell them their assigned seat (a post about the seating chart strategy will come soon), and a note is then placed on the seating chart in order to remind me of the pronunciation as I begin to memorize names.

2-3 Minute Introduction

After all students have found their seats, I enter the room and give a very brief introduction about myself and the class. Here’s what I said this year:

“Good morning! How are we doing today? Well, my name is Mr. Ehlert, you can call me Mr. E for short, and I just want you to know that I’m very excited to be your teacher this year. I really consider it an honor and a privilege to have you in my class, and I want to do everything I can to help you reach your goals and dreams this year.

My oldest daughter is actually starting Kindergarten in a few days, and here’s what I’d like her teacher to do. I want her teacher to see the value and potential in my daughter, and I want her to help my daughter grow and develop to maximize her potential. I also want to do the same with you. I want to see the incredible value that each of you possesses, and I want to do everything I can to help you reach your potential. Overall, my goal is to make this the best math class you’ve ever had, and I believe we can get there together.

I’ll tell you two quick things about me, and then we’ll jump right in. Number one, and I’m not saying this to make anyone feel excluded or pressured, but I’m a Christian. I tell you this because I want you to know where I’m coming from and what my perspective on life is. Also, I want you to call me out if you ever see something in me that isn’t consistent with being a Christian.

Number two, I have an incredible wife and two amazing daughters. I want to be present in their lives, so I don’t stay after school often. However, if you ever need tutoring, you’re welcome to come before school or during lunch any time. We’ll talk more about the class structure later, but for now, let’s get started with learning Math!”

We don’t go over rules or procedures explicitly on the first day for a few reasons. One, as mentioned earlier, I want to set the right tone for the class. On the first day, students are usually on their best behavior and are usually in business mode. Therefore, it’s important to capitalize on that by doing math and beginning to teach day one. As soon as we begin to do relationship surveys or go over class policies, we begin to shift kids out of business mode. Those things are important for the class, but I believe they should be used after day 1. Relationship building is crucial for teaching as well, but we have the whole year to focus on it, and I don’t believe it suffers by starting to teach on the first day. In reality, since making this switch, the relationship building in my classes has not been negatively affected at all.

In addition, I’ve learned that going over rules doesn’t have as much impact as modeling the rules. The rules I tell the kids do not matter as much as the actual rules I model, intentionally or unintentionally. Therefore, the first day, and every day, I’m constantly modeling what I expect from students. Is 100 percent engagement a true expectation in my classroom? That depends on what I’m modeling. So, on the first day, we do math, and as we do math, I implicitly drill in learning strategies, procedures, and expectations for engagement. Let’s see how…

100 Numbers Task

The first expectation I want to model is productive groupwork. I believe in creating a collaborative culture, and we need to hit the ground running on the first day to model expectations for groupwork. Therefore, after the 2-3 minute introduction, we immediately jump into Sarah Van Der Werf’s 100 Number Task. Definitely click the link and read about it because it’s the best activity I’ve found that drives home group norms and models for students what good group work is really like.

Before the activity, I give a brief explanation of why I believe groupwork is essential for our class this year. I tell the kids that research shows learning is significantly increased when students work productively in groups (this is true). I also mention that language acquisition is better in groups (this is also true). I’m also honest with them and say that I personally don’t always enjoy working in groups. Sometimes I like to work alone to figure something out, and sometimes working with groups is difficult. Therefore, I ensure that we will have times to work individually and quietly. Finally, I tell them that bottom line, if something is good for students, then I’m going to find a way to do it. So, we will be in groups pretty much all day every day in this class.

After the 3 rounds of the task are complete, we look through the pictures, and I emphasize that the best groups were huddled up close to each other and had the paper in the center of the table for everyone to see. It’s a great light bulb moment for the kids when they see the progression in body language throughout the 3 rounds. They can see many of the groups moving in closer to each other.

Finally, while going through the debrief slides, I begin to model the most frequent learning strategy I’ll use throughout the year, Think-Pair-Share. A detailed post about the strategy will come later, but on the first day, I begin to drill in that I expect the students to be completely quiet while they think about the question in the think phase. Then, they are released to talk with their group or shoulder partner for a timed portion (the pair phase), and then we come back to whole class discussion (the share phase).

I drill Think-Pair-Share many times throughout the first day (in particular the silent phase because that tends to be an initial challenge) because it’s modeling my expectations. By the end of the first few days, students will immediately know what to do when I say Think-Pair-Share. In addition, for the first several days, I put the yellow Think-Pair-Share bubble (see above) on problems or questions where it’s appropriate. This further fuels the training that allows kids time to think quietly and then productively work together in specific chunks throughout every lesson I teach for the rest of the year.

3 Act Math

After the 100 Number Task and debrief, we jump right into a 3 Act Math. We do this because I want the kids to practice the group norms we just developed within an engaging problem that also relates to our content area. For Geometry, I chose Dan Meyer’s Taco Cart lesson because it leads right into calculating distance (the lesson I teach on day 2). More detailed posts about how to implement a 3 Act task will come later. Also, in a few of my classes, we didn’t finish Taco Cart before the bell rang. This is okay. My goal is for the kids to work on the task productively and for me to work the room and model my expectations for the task. I’m looking for any students who may be opting out or groups that may not be working as well as I’m aiming for. Any situation that allows me to show my expectations through my actions.

Finally, I make sure we don’t finish before the bell rings because I want to set the expectation that we work up until the bell (or 1 minute before) each day.


2 thoughts on “The First Day of School

    1. Hey Greg,

      Thank you so much for the kind words! It really means a lot, and I’m glad the site has been useful. Feel free to send feedback for improvement any time. Thanks again!

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