Ahhh late summer. It’s every teacher’s favorite time of year. The grocery store aisles are full of glue sticks, pencils, and notebooks. On TV, commercials advertise the cheapest backpacks and the coolest trends for the upcoming school year. Each time a teacher walks in the store or sees the latest back to school ad, their stomach knots up, whether it’s their first year or their fifteenth. The start of the school year is both exciting and nerve-wracking. It’s full of possibility, both good and not-so-good.
There are a lot of unknowns that come with those first few days of a new school year. New students, new families, new co-workers, and sometimes even new administrators, so it’s no wonder teachers may be seeking to make a best first impression.
According to Amy Cuddy, a psychologist, people naturally strive to answer two central questions when meeting others for the first time:
While our relationships with co-workers, administrators, and families are significant, most of all we want our students to trust and respect us! After all, they are the reason we are there. They are the ones we come to teach.
So, how do we make that first impression that will set us up for a smooth, problem-free year? Well, no matter how great the first impression, a problem-free year is probably a pipe dream. But we can put our best feet forward and start in the right direction toward creating great relationships.
Cuddy says that we must first earn trust and then respect. So, how do we start to gain students and families’ trust? Read on for tips to incorporate into your back to school night, the first day, or another first meeting with your student:
First Trust, Then Respect
Cuddy says: “A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you’ve achieved trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.” It’s hard to gain genuine respect without gaining trust first. As Aretha Franklin sang ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me….’If you try to command respect without earning trust you may have students who appear to respect you but are too intimidated to ask questions or take risks in class. Work towards trust first and then respect.
Use Welcoming Body Language
How you say something is just as important as what you say. Greet students and others with a warm smile and a gentle enthusiasm. Be confident, but not authoritative. Dress professionally, especially for important events such as back to school night and the first few days. It can be tempting to show up in sweats to set up your classroom, but opting for something a little less frumpy may give your colleagues a better impression of you.
Welcome Chit Chat
You’re going to be spending a LOT of time with your students and probably a fair amount with their parents as well. Get to know who they are as people. Let them share their likes, their dislikes, and their lives outside of school. You hate seafood, and your student loves trout? Their parent’s voted for candidate A, and you rallied behind candidate B? Accept differing ideas and opinions so that students get the message that even if they aren’t just like you, you will still care about them.
Student Talk Time is Key
It’s easy to overlook the importance of getting students talking those first few days. You have procedures and policies to cover. You often aren’t just meeting one kid and their family, but a whole group of them. However, you can give them as many opportunities on that first day or at that first meeting to talk, and you can get to know them so they feel valued.
The first few days of school and the weeks leading up to it are overwhelming, to say the least. Classroom set up, lesson planning, professional development, supplies, and more can take up a lot of your bandwidth. Try your best to focus on your students when you are with them. They will appreciate your attention, and being a high priority to you will go a long way in establishing rapport with them.
Listen, Listen, Listen
Be an active listener! This goes along with staying focused. Of course, you must have a plan for what is next, but try to actually listen to your students and react accordingly rather than being overly focused on meeting your objectives and getting things done.
Do Some Digging
Try to gather some knowledge about your students beforehand. No, you don’t have to ‘Facebook stalk’ them or their families (and you probably shouldn’t!) However, even just remembering their name and making sure you pronounce/spell it correctly can go a long way. For elementary teachers, you may be able to ask former teachers about your students. For Jr. high and high school teachers it is more challenging to connect right away with students on an individual level, but any information you can remember will go a long way.
So, take a deep breath, fill up your cart and roll out the bulletin paper. It’s time to head back to school. Make the best impression you can and good luck for the year ahead!
Amy Curletto has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.