Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Settling In

Our start of school calendar was organized very differently this year. Most years, our first week of school comes right after Labor Day. Teachers arrive on Tuesday, 6th graders are oriented on Wednesday, and then on Thursday everyone attends school for two days. This first week always had a rhythm to it. Thursday and Friday became about rules and syllabi, and students spent inordinate amounts of time in their homeroom reading student handbooks, attending assemblies, and getting more information about more rules and syllabi. Kids were squirrely since sitting for six hours hadn't been part of their routine for months. By the end of that first week everyone was exhausted and ready for the weekend. Those two days are a big part of the reason why I dislike the first days of school. Those days feel artificial. They feel like a waste of time. My students and I end up too busy waiting for school to really begin when we begin this way.

This year, due to Jewish holy days, things were organized differently. 6th graders attended a full week last week. 7th and 8th graders came for four days starting Tuesday. Homeroom time was spread out over four days, and classes were almost as long as they will be on a normal day. This forced us to rethink things and really reflect on how we wanted this year to start for our students. Instead of the usual introductory slide show, we spent time talking as a group, introducing ourselves, mingling, and sharing reading choices. Instead of telling students the rules, we had them work in groups to create presentations explaining the importance of rules. We were up, we were active, and students were running the show by day two. Instead of wasting time treading water, we jumped right in to the deep end, and our kids all swam! We used that first week to set a tone that our classroom community is one where we work together. One where we solve our own problems instead of relying on the teachers to solve them. And one where you will be held to a high standard. 

We still have a long way to go this year, but I can already feel how this different start is going to make all the difference. By the end of last week I already knew the names of about 85% of my students. I know who the natural leaders in each class are. I know who is willing to take big risks, and who my shy students are. I know who will need more support in managing their time and who will need more support in the social interactions that make up so much of the classroom experience. In short, I already know my students in a way that I never would have on our old schedule. And the best part of the whole week was that by Friday I was energized instead of drained. I couldn't wait to jump back in this week and continue to build on those first experiences.       

No comments:

Post a Comment