Guest post by Brian McCann
It’s taken me nearly 15 years to get the opening of school “right.”
And in all of the summer planning I did for more than a decade: the refreshing of the building, the supplies ordering, the school’s master schedule, I forgot the most important stakeholder of all: the children.
It wasn’t until I was engaged in a summer Twitter chat a few summer’s back that Craig Vroom, an Ohio middle school principal, introduced me to the #1st3days.
The philosophy of #1st3days has a laser focus on relationship-building and brands from the opening bell that people are the heart of this high school.
Starts with the Opening Moments of School
Freshmen arrive at Joseph Case High School before any of their peers on the first day and are immediately welcomed by all faculty in the auditorium who flank the aisles clapping and cheering as the eager students enter. Immediately, freshmen are placed in their advisories: small learning communities that will meet regularly with the same teacher over the four-year journey. They are introduced how to read a rotating schedule, given a personalized tour of the building, and shown how to access their locker.
Mid-morning, students return for their first formal class meeting to review some highlights from the student handbook, then begin an abbreviated Day 1 schedule as the rest of the school joins us for a 10 a.m. start.
Momentum Continues Each Period
Teachers are asked to spend the first three days of school building relationships with their students. We provide tons of information on different ice breakers: some allow the teacher to get more info on children; others let the students know a little more about the teacher on a personal level.
There are three important guidelines for the faculty:
- Desks CANNOT be in rows.
- Avoid the LIST OF RULES.
- No direct instruction should occur
Why these three guidelines? Seating must reflect relationship-building rather than a “you versus me” mentality that rows of desks convey. Some teachers may even change up seating period by period depending on the student cohort. Rules and regulations have negative connotations. How would you like to begin a four-year adventure by learning NO…NO…and NO? Finally, teachers have the rest of the year to make sure that students are moving along their curriculum map. The #1st3days might sneak in some learning through relationship-building activities, but it’s long way from notes, lecture and hours of homework on Day 1.
We even do a “field trip” on Day 1 with all students. Teachers bring classes outside during the extended lunch period to show them alternate routes off the main campus in the event of an evacuation. Why wait until an emergency or a drill to disclose these important egress options?
Parents, families and the community also are part of the #1st3days. So many of the stakeholders in our building share out this experience on social media, particularly Twitter. Because of our common school hashtag #casepride, we provide families with a glimpse of their child’s initial experience of the school year. Our school takes pictures — LOTS of pictures — of students and teachers. I like to welcome freshmen with a personalized sign on the first day of school as they get off the bus and promote our #1st3days initiative digitally.
The Big Finish
We repeat the #1st3days philosophy on Days 2 and 3 and end our first week with a school-wide pep rally celebrating all the activities that our school offers. We encourage everyone to wear maroon and gold. We cheer on all student activities from current sports teams and our performing arts groups to the Automotive Club and our Chess and Games Club. We showcase students who are part of each activity and bring them to center-court. Students learn when and where each activity next meets. We even give a shout-out to the adult supervisor and point of contact.Week #1 ends on a high note for all!
Think about personalizing and recalibrating your #1st3days of school. When students know their teachers care on Day 1, it makes the remaining 179 days even more valuable, more meaningful, and more awesome.
Brian McCann is principal of Joseph Case High School in Swansea, MA. He is a 2018 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year.