Your planning is done. Your pencil pots are immaculate. Your walls look like a centrefold from House and Garden. Now what? What are you actually going to do with those 30 children when they walk into your room for the first time? Here are my tips to a great first day (bonus: a lot of these save you time, too!)
1. See what they do
2. Engage them right from the start
I incorporated a bit of rule-making in mine. I did an activity inspired by the Bill of Rights. I gave each child 2 strips of paper. They wrote a rule or right on each (I talked to them briefly about positive wording, e.g. “listen to others” rather than “don’t shout out”). Next, they came together to discuss them. They had to narrow them down to 5 rules out of their 8. They could combine them rather than discarding them if they wished. Finally, they rank them in order of importance and stick them onto a large paper (see the pic at the top). I love this as a first activity because you can see how they interact, if there are any bossy ones!
Next lesson, we did Maths. I introduced times tables speed tests and we did our first one. This takes a while the first time. After that, we had a go at learning a Numberock song about time.
After break, we read The Dot and did some Vashti-inspired art work.
We ended the day with a book tasting: I put several books out on each table. We discussed ways of choosing a book (looking at the cover, reading the first page, checking that you can understand it). The children went round in friendship pairs and chose a book for paired reading.
As you can see, we did a full day of lessons. They were busy, engaged and therefore better behaved.
3. Chat and Watch
Instead of a 'getting to know you activity', in which you actually learn very little, make sure that your lessons allow for time to watch them and to chat to them. Taking the day described above as an example, when they were doing their Bill of Rights activity, I watched and listened. I took in how they were interacting with each other. When they were doing their artwork, I spent 5 minutes at each table and just chatted to them informally. You'll find out loads more this way that if you ask them to write about their summer (cringe) or to write 2 truths and a lie etc.
4. Pile on the Praise
Make sure you praise them as much as possible. Especially if you're having to deal with some behaviour management issues. The praise will counteract it. I also target those children that I've been warned off. Try to make it as sincere as possible (no sing-song voices). This is part of the fresh start for some of them. Another tip here, try not to over-focus on those children you're not expecting to have the best behaviour. They notice. They're used to being the centre of attention, for better or worse, and it may surprise them to blend in for a while.
So, there you have it. My 4 top tips to an awesome start. Let me know in the comments below if you have any tips or if you try out any of these ideas and don't forget to share this with anyone you think may be interested!
I resisted Class Dojo for a while. I wasn't really looking for any behaviour management help and I was a little wary of how public it is to the rest of the class. What made me try it? To be honest, pure curiosity. Everyone was talking about it and I couldn't really form an opinion without trying it. Now, I love it! There are different ways to use the features and to implement it into your classroom, so here's my guide to how I use it. It really works for me!
This is very important to me, I NEVER TAKE OFF POINTS. Ever. I am a firm believer in positive reinforcement. I've worked at schools with very challenging children filling classes of 33 and still wouldn't take off points. There are a few reasons for this, the main one being that the positive action is not negated by a negative action. They still did the positive thing. The second reason is that it is public. Positives should be public, negative should be private. I've tried and tested this and overall, behaviour improves every time.
What do I give points for?
On Dojo, you can choose the reasons for the points. Our school has 7 Cs the children work towards (collaboration, communication, commitment, confidence etc). They're a little like the 8 Personal Goals in the IPC. Mine are tied to those. Each time they demonstrate a skill, they get a point. I also have one for demonstrating Growth Mindset and sometimes add them for specific goals, eg. reading.
How do I manage the practicalities of giving the points?
I have the Dojo website up on the IWB most of the time. Either I give the points then, or let the children go up and put on their own. They love that!
What is the 'point' of the points?
I've heard lots of ideas on this one, the most popular seeming to be some kind of Dojo shop in school where children spend points. I don't believe in 'prizes' in the classroom. The reward in my class is very simple and very highly sought after: each week I post the 'winner' on the class story page. That's it! The parents all get to see who has earned the most points and I give a little insight into what they earned them for. They love it! Each week, I reset the points.
Team / Group Points
You can organise the children into teams or groups and award points to the whole team. Any given like this give each child a point and one for the team. Each week, we see which team has the most points and they are 'team of the week' the following week. Again, this has quite minimal benefit, but that doesn't seem to matter, which is kind of nice really. Team of the week might get to sit on the table when we read stories, customise their monster on Dojo, line up for lunch first, sit on a cushion... it really varies from class to class. I usually discuss it with them at the start of the year. Again, I reset the points each week.
Whole Class Points
There is a 'whole class' tally on the main page, which keeps track of the points accumulated overall. However, I don't use this. I have a 'student' (fake) whose name is Class. When the children do something well as a class, that fake student gets a point. This one I don't reset each week (you can 'select all' to reset them, then just untick this one). When they have 50, the children get to choose a treat. We've had lots of things, from pyjama parties to 'crafternoons'. At the moment, they're about 8 points away from their treat, which will be Muggle Quidditch! (I think I'm more excited than they are!!).
I asked parents for permission to post photographs of their children on the class story. All but one agreed and the one who didn't was happy for her child's work, hands, voice, back of head etc. to go on there. For group photos or those where she is in the background, I can easily pixelate her using an app. It is such a lovely way to keep parents in the loop. Parents can like and comment on pictures. I'm sure that some people will not be able to use this feature without it causing issues, but you can turn comments off if you like. I've never had an issue with it so far. There is also a School Story, on which you can post things of interest to all parents. What's nice is that you can also post to just a single child's story. I don't use this that often because I like to share with the class, but sometimes the children do presentations and you can put a short video of it on their story. The may not want this sharing with the whole class full of parents, but it's nice for theirs to see. Note: at the moment, you can only post one picture per post, so I use collage apps like Layout sometimes to post multiple pics at once.
Notices and requests
It's handy to be able to post reminders about non-uniform days, swimming kits etc. You can also post notices about homework, show auditions and anything else useful. Last week, I had a mini brainwave and it worked really well!! I realised that I can post requests and the parents can all see what the other responses are. For example, if you're having a class party and you don't want 30 bags of Doritos, you can post what you'd like and ask the parents to comment with what they are bringing to avoid duplicates. I used it for Science experiment bits last week and it worked a treat! (See pic).
Surprising Extra Features
When I signed up, I hadn't realised that Class Dojo has lots of other features too! There are some really useful tools, like a random student selector, a group maker and a noise metre (although the latter always suggests my class are screaming, even if the room is empty!). There is also music for focus or activity, which is great for when you just need something immediately without faffing around. I also love the still-developing Big Ideas section. This has some lovely videos and guided activities on Growth Mindset, Mindfulness, Perseverance, Empathy and Gratitude. My class LOVE the mindfulness section. We use the meditation and movement really often and it's a great start or end to our day.
I completely surprised myself. I love it! I am moving schools (and countries) in August and was delighted to find that my new school use it as a whole school. They've already added me to their account and it's great to be able to really get a flavour of the place already. I am looking forward to continuing to use it next year and would be very disappointed if I worked somewhere where they didn't want us to.
I'd love to hear your experiences of Class Dojo and any tips you have for making a success of it. Comment below or on Facebook.
I've said it so many times: "If only I'd known...!" So, here are the things I wish I'd been told when I started out as a young teacher, who thought enthusiasm meant colour printing and laminating everything that stayed still for 3 minutes, being prepared meant filling my classroom display boards before the children even set foot in the room and knowing what I was doing meant knowing what everyone else was going on about!
#1: Ask what the acronyms mean
You will be bamboozled with them at first: People love to drop them into conversation (sometimes deliberately, I'm sure) and you feel like an idiot for not knowing what they mean. Don't! They change constantly (case-in-point, SEN / SEND / SENDB), you won't have heard of half of them anyway and sometimes they're just completely made up!
#2: TAs will help you way more than judge you
"Don't worry! There'll be a TA with you for your whole first day to help you out." ARGH!! That is sooo much worse! So someone who's experienced, knows the school and has seen lots of teachers will be in there watching me make a mess of everything and silently (I hope) judging my every move?! Seriously, though, they know the kids, they know the routines, they are your biggest source of help. Still scary, though!
#3: Shave your legs
Some of the children will spend a lot of time looking at your ankles. Some of them will stroke them.
#4: You can teach
You've done your training. You've been observed a lot. Trust me, someone would have let you know by now if you were rubbish. That being said...
#5: You'll change
One day, you will look back and cringe at some of the things you did/said/thought as an NQT. But then, they said that about shoulder pads and they still rock.
#6: Tell them your name
Takes the fun out of it a bit, but my first name is not a secret or a dirty word. I just let them know that it's not seen as polite to use it. (Don't get me started on that one...)
#7: Stop making worksheets
Come on, people. From Year 3 upwards, 99% of lessons should be worksheet-free. They need to learn how to start on a blank piece of paper. That way, I'll never have to repeat the experience of asking a 9-year-old to draw a table, only to find them sketching their dining furniture!
#8: They're not too old
My Year 6s still loved their class minion teddy and sock monkeys. They also loved being read to (and no, not just because they could sit there and not doing anything! They didn't even want to go home if we were at a good part!). Let them be kids.
#9: Class decor is not a competition
Usually. Although, if it was, I'd better win. Just saying.
#10: Hide the felt tips!
No matter what you say, how clear you are, how many reasons you give (it'll soak through, they're too thick for the detail...), someone will definitely use felt-tip pens in every lesson! Just give them out when they are appropriate.
#11: Don't take mackerel for lunch
The other staff will hate you. They may even hang your lunch from the top-most rung of the climbing frame. Plus, no-one wants the children to ask them why they smell of fish.
#12: Let the walls display the children's work, not yours
I still struggle with this! Go nuts on your reading area, hook them in with a cool door, but let the bulk of the classroom either help or celebrate them.
#13: Stop laminating!!!
How do you make sure you are prepared? Why, laminate everything you see, of course! No. Just no. Unless it's going to be handled a lot and definitely used again, stop it! Wastes time, money and the reflection can make things hard to see.
You MUST have things you'd have loved to say to your NQT self! Comment them below - I'd love to read them!
Hi! I'm Mrs P: passionate primary school teacher!