10 things to do on the first day of school…

A new school year is about to begin in Australia. It’ll be the first time in nearly 30 years that I don’t have a class to teach and it’s not an easy adjustment! For as long as I can remember, I have started the year by planning the first day for my new classes. Reflecting on all those new beginnings, I realise how much teaching and learning have changed… and how much I have changed.

What needs to happen on ‘Day 1’ ?

I used to think…

  1. Explain your expectations.
  2. Establish rules.
  3. Know everyone’s names.
  4. Arrange seats to minimalise talking.
  5. Organise books.
  6. Talk about homework.
  7. Tell them what they’ll be learning.
  8. Make sure they listen.
  9. Get students working right away.
  10. Show a firm hand.

Now I think…

  1. Ask about their expectations.
  2. Create an essential agreement.
  3. Know everyone’s story.
  4. Arrange seats to encourage collaboration.
  5. Demonstrate that you value thinking.
  6. Talk about learning.
  7. Ensure they know that they own their learning.
  8. Make sure you listen.
  9. Show you’re a part of the learning community.
  10. Laugh…


21 thoughts on “10 things to do on the first day of school…

  1. Hi Edna,

    Thanks for a great post. I remember the first piece of advice I was given for starting the school year was, ‘Don’t smile for the first term!’ I sure am glad (and I bet my kids are too) that I didn’t take that advice.

    Although I have only been teaching for 10 years, I too have seen my first day preparations change. This year I will have the same class again for the first time so I expect that what I do on the first day will change again this year.



    1. @ Mel,

      I was going to leave a comment and say the same thing! That “don’t smile” advice was the first thing this post reminded me of. It has taken me a long time to get that out of my head I think.

      I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to not set any routines or expectations on Day One (maybe you can do this less with older students??) but many of the suggestions on Edna’s second list will also be happening in my classroom.

      Great post, Edna!


      1. Yes… we do need to set up routines and make our expectations clear too, not just for younger kids. I don’t think list B excludes everything in list A… just a different awareness nowadays 🙂


      2. @ Edna, I’m glad to hear you say that.
        I think the only reason I can do what I do with my students is because we have a routine and expectations. You’re right, list B is an expansion of list A. I hope lots of teachers check out your lists and links!


  2. Hi Edna…

    when I started teaching in the mid 80’s a rather stern looking teacher advised me, while looking over the top of her glasses, not to smile until Easter.

    I think I only lasted a day and have laughed at the thought of this ever since.



  3. Enjoyed the post. That first day is so IMPORTANT. Many teachers have a back to school night. That would be equally important. You only have ONE chance at 1st impressions. I would add plan a fun activity to the list. For new or relatively new to the profession, I would suggest they read The Edutainer by Johnson & McElory. I skyped with Vedpal Yadav from India. He may try to contact you. He is a teacher at a Government Polytechnic school. Have a great with your students.


  4. I think you’ve done a terrific job showing the difference in Day 1 from 20 years ago. What do you think we’ll be saying 20 years from now? I think that’s a super interesting question because I don’t think we could imagined how things have morphed to the place where they have.

    I also agree with Rich’s idea about including one activity that blends fun and content area. I teach middle schoolers…and while they definitely want to be known as a person…they are anxious and worried about what they’ll be learning. If I can do a simple activity that sucks them into the excitement of my content, then they’ll want to come back the next day to learn more. In science that’s pretty easy because you just do some kind of a quick demo that presents an unexpected outcome…and then they are left wondering why that thing happened. I’m sure you get the idea.

    Thanks again for sharing and for giving me a list that I need to consider when I start planning my next year’s Day 1.



  5. Love this post. Reminds me of a passage from a book by William Glasser:

    I don’t want to start with threats. They’re an admission of weakness, an admission that a lot of what I teach isn’t very interesting and that I’m worried about losing control. Besides, before I even get to know them, I’m anticipating trouble and telling them that at the first sign of it, I’m going to clamp down.

    Here’s a summary of my first day:

    I think establishing a mindset and expectations trumps procedures.


    1. Paul, that post was great! (I hadn’t started reading your blog yet when you posted it!) I loved the quote from Glasser.. and this…’I think establishing a mindset and expectations trumps procedures.’


  6. A very thought provoking post, and quite a timely one as I will be starting the new year with my new class in a couple of weeks 🙂 Definitely makes me think of what I try to accomplish in the first day of school – and like Penny, I was also given the advice to never smile before Easter! I’ve never really seen the point of advice like that, as it would go totally against my nature… and kids can smell deceit!

    Thanks again for providing some food for thought.


  7. I finished uni in 2009 and they told us don’t smile until Easter too! I went straight into full time teaching last year with Kindy, so I was definitely smiling on day one. Thanks for your ideas Edna, will help when I am planning my 2nd first day of my career :).


  8. Like you Edna, I have come a long way in my 29 years of teaching. and I can so relate to everything you write here. The teacher I was 29 years ago wouldn’t even recognise the teacher I am today – not only am I teaching a different subject (I’d never even used a computer when I first started teaching – there weren’t any in the schools I taught at), I’m also teaching primary – something that would have terrified me as a new teacher. Then I focused on getting through the lessons, on crowd control and “getting through the books/course”. Now I don’t have any books, and there’s no course as such and every year I learn at least as many new things as my students do. I’m very comfortable to say to my students “I don’t know, let’s find out” and I’m a happier teacher and a better person because of it. Thank you so much for this post – it has made me appreciate just how far I have come in my learning journey.


  9. What a great blog entry! I have already forwarded it to my student teacher who will be starting in a couple of weeks. I have also reflected on my own ‘first day’ interactions with my classes. This is the first day of the new and progressive teacher!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s