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Career Questions: Opening Day

Q:  I work with a team of teachers at the same grade level.  We have put together a discipline plan that works well and is easy for kids and their parents to understand.  Every year my team agrees to spend a lot of time on the first day going over the rules and regulations with the kids.  I’ve gone along with this plan for the last couple of years, but I can’t help feeling that this really isn’t how I want to start off a new year.  Rules are important, but so is feeling excited about school!  Also, when my new students go home at the end of the first day, I’d like them to have something interesting and fun to tell their parents.  I want to be a team player, but I also want to excite kids about their new year.  Any thoughts?

A:  Actually, you’ve hit on one of my pet peeves – using the beginning of a brand-new year to talk AT kids
about rules instead of talking WITH them about all the great new things they’re going to do and learn – and maybe trying some of those things right away!

First day of school2 My usual routine as a principal on opening day was to visit every classroom in the building for a few minutes.  I was always dismayed by the number of teachers who wasted those precious opening minutes to distribute books, talk about schedules, and list all the rules.  You could see some of the kids already slumped at their desks looking longingly out the window.

Rules and schedules and books are important, of course, but if you want kids to be excited about the new year, give them something to be excited about – a story, a project, a picture, a play, a little teamwork – the list is endless.  You can always talk about the rules tomorrow, or maybe ask them what they think a good rule is.  The best teachers I’ve ever known always understood that those first moments in a new school year are to be cherished and used for something to light up kids’ faces and engage their minds.

Talk to your team about your exciting plans for opening day.  Explain how you only have one opening day and you need to make it count. Remind them that kids are generally well behaved on opening day anyway and don’t need a crash course in discipline.  Besides, your team’s rules will hardly be anything the kids don’t already expect.  You might be surprised to find a colleague or two that shares your views.  Have a great start to a great year! 


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.