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Expectations for the first day of school or when meeting students for the first time

Updated: Jul 3

Welcome Back to School: Setting Expectations for Students on the First Day


Welcome back to school! As we embark on this exciting new academic year, I want to share some key expectations to help us all start on the right foot. These guidelines will ensure a positive and productive environment for everyone.



The First Interaction with New Students


  1. Greeting at the Door: Stand at the classsroom door, greet each child by name, and engage with them. Ask about their summer to make them feel welcomed.

  2. Clear Instructions: Have concise written instructions on the board, such as where to sit and where to put their supplies.

  3. Welcome Letter: Write a welcome message on the board explaining the steps to follow while waiting for everyone to arrive:

    1. Find the desk with your name tag.

    2. Put supplies under the desk.

    3. Begin a prepared activity, like a class word search, with a sharpened pencil.

  4. Detailed Guidance: Think through every detail to help students feel calm and prepared. Encourage them to say hello to new classmates, talk quietly, and follow the activity as written on the board.


Establishing a Quiet Signal in Your Classroom


When everybody has arrived and all the students are seated and engaged in their activities, it's time to introduce one of the most important routines you'll establish all year: the quiet signal.


Introducing the Quiet Signal


A quiet signal is crucial for maintaining order and ensuring that you can quickly get the students' attention when necessary. One effective quiet signal is a bell or chime.


  1. Explain the Signal: Clearly explain to the students what the signal is and what they are expected to do when they hear it. For example, "When you hear this chime, you will stop what you are doing immediately, put your hands on top of your head, look at me, and listen."

  2. Practice the Signal: On the first day of school, practice this routine multiple times. Start by having everyone talk. Then ring the bell or chime and observe their reactions. Correct any mistakes and praise correct behavior.

    1. First Practice: "Okay, everyone, let's practice. Talk amongst yourselves. Ding! Now, stop what you're doing, put your hands on your head, and look at me. Great job! Let's try it again until everyone gets it right."

    2. Monitor and Correct: Ensure that every student follows the routine correctly. If not everyone complies, give constructive feedback. "That was a good first try. Let's aim for 100% compliance. Ready? Ding!"

  3. Reinforce with Praise: When the entire class responds correctly, praise them enthusiastically. Positive reinforcement is key to establishing this routine. "Fantastic! You all did it perfectly. Let's keep practicing to make sure we always get it right."

  4. Random Practice: Throughout the first day and the rest of the week, use the quiet signal randomly to reinforce the habit. Each time, provide immediate feedback and praise. By the end of the first day, students should respond correctly every time.

    1. Feedback and Adjustment: After each practice, give feedback. "Excellent work, everyone! Remember, this signal is crucial, especially in emergencies, so let's make sure we always follow it."


By consistently practicing and reinforcing the quiet signal, you'll ensure that you can capture your students' attention quickly and effectively whenever needed. This foundational routine will significantly contribute to a well-managed and responsive classroom environment throughout the school year.


Overplanning the First Day of School: A Key to Success


One of the most important days to overplan is the first day of school. After a long summer break, students' brains are not quite ready for a full day of structured learning. Therefore, it's crucial to fill the day with short, engaging activities that keep them interested and help ease them back into the school routine.


Strategies for a Successful First Day of School


1. Engage with Fun and Short Activities:

  • Icebreakers: Start with icebreaker activities to help students get to know each other and feel more comfortable in the classroom. These can be simple games or exercises that encourage interaction.

  • Art Projects: Incorporate creative art projects that allow students to express themselves. These projects not only engage their creativity but also give them a sense of accomplishment.

  • Journal Prompts: Use short journal prompts to get students thinking and writing. This can be a great way to assess their writing skills and learn more about their summer experiences.

2. Have a Variety of Plans:

  • Be Prepared with Multiple Activities: It's better to have more activities planned than you think you'll need. You might not use all of them, but it's essential to avoid any downtime. Downtime can lead to boredom and misbehavior, which can disrupt the structure you're trying to establish.

  • Teach Structure and Behavior: The first day is not just about fun activities; it's also about teaching students the structure and behavior expectations in your classroom. Use each activity as an opportunity to reinforce these expectations.

3. Transition Smoothly:

  • Short and Sweet: Keep each activity short to maintain students' attention and enthusiasm. Long activities can lead to restlessness and disengagement.

  • Smooth Transitions: Plan your transitions between activities carefully. Clear instructions and smooth transitions help maintain order and keep students focused.

4. Reinforce Positive Behavior:

  • Positive Reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior and participation. Praise students for following instructions and participating actively in activities.

    • Model Expectations: Demonstrate the behaviors you expect from your students. This includes listening when others are speaking, following directions, and respecting classroom materials and each other.


By overplanning the first day of school, you set the stage for a successful year. Engaging activities, clear expectations, and positive reinforcement help students transition from their summer break into the school routine smoothly. Remember, the goal is to keep them engaged, teach them structure, and set the tone for the rest of the year. Overplanning ensures that you have the flexibility to adapt and keep the day running smoothly, no matter what challenges arise.


Modeling Expectations from Day One


Remember that establishing clear expectations on the first day of school sets the tone for the entire year. Your goal is not to be their best friend, but to be their role model. When you consistently model these expectations and enforce them without deviation, students will practice and internalize them throughout the year.


The Role of a Teacher as a Role Model


1. Consistency is Key:

  • Firm but Fair: From day one, make it clear that raising hands to speak is a non-negotiable rule. Consistency in enforcing this rule is crucial.

  • Lead by Example: Demonstrate the behavior you expect. If you adhere strictly to this rule, students will follow suit.

2. The Danger of Deviating:

  • Avoid Chaos: As soon as you allow students to call out without raising their hands, chaos can quickly ensue. A chaotic classroom environment makes it difficult to manage and impedes learning.

  • Long-term Impact: Consistent enforcement from the start ensures that students understand and respect the classroom rules, leading to a more orderly and productive learning environment throughout the year.


Strategies for Maintaining Order


1. Reinforce Through Practice:

  • Daily Reinforcement: Continuously practice the expectation of raising hands. Reinforce this behavior through positive feedback and gentle reminders.

  • Role Play: Engage students in role-playing scenarios where they practice raising their hands and waiting their turn to speak.

2. Positive Reinforcement:

  • Praise and Recognition: Acknowledge and praise students who follow the rules. Positive reinforcement encourages others to follow the same behavior.

  • Constructive Feedback: When students forget, provide immediate and constructive feedback to remind them of the expectations.


Establishing Voice Level Expectations in the Classroom


Another critical expectation to set during the first day or week of school is the concept of voice levels and what each level means. This helps manage classroom noise and ensures that students understand when and how to use their voices appropriately.


Introducing Voice Levels


Having a clear system for voice levels is essential for maintaining a calm and orderly classroom. Here's how to introduce and practice voice levels with your students:


1. Display a Voice Level Chart:

  • Visual Aid: Create a chart labeled "Voice Level Expectations" and display it prominently at the front of the room. This chart serves as a constant reminder for students.

2. Define Each Voice Level:

  • Voice Level Zero (Silence): Explain that this level means complete silence. Practice this by having the entire class remain silent for a short period. "Let's see what silence sounds like. Everyone, be completely quiet."

  • Voice Level One (Whisper): This is a whisper voice, used for very quiet conversations. Practice whispering with the class. "Now, let's try whispering. Speak to your neighbor in a whisper."

  • Voice Level Two (Low Indoor Voice): This level is for quiet, indoor conversations. Practice speaking in a low voice. "Let's use our low indoor voices. Talk to your partner using a quiet, inside voice."

  • Voice Level Three (Outdoor Voice): This is a louder voice appropriate for outdoor activities. Explain that this voice is rarely used inside. "Outdoor voices are for outside play. Let's use our outdoor voices for a moment."

  • Voice Level Four (Recess Voice): This is the loudest level, typically used when playing outside and involves shouting. "Recess voices are for outside when we are playing games."

3. Practice and Reinforce:

  • Interactive Practice: Engage students in practicing each voice level. Give them scenarios where they use the appropriate voice level and provide immediate feedback.

  • Monitor and Correct: Continuously monitor students' voice levels throughout the day. If they are not following the expected voice level, stop the class and correct them. "Remember, we're using voice level two right now. Let's try that again."

4. Consistent Reinforcement:

  • Specific Feedback: Provide specific feedback when students use the correct voice level. "Great job using your whisper voice during group work!"

  • Non-Deviation: Do not deviate from the established voice level expectations. Consistency is key to ensuring that students adhere to the rules throughout the year.


Teaching Hallway Behavior: Lining Up and Walking in Silence


Another crucial routine to model during the first day and the first week of school is how you expect children to line up and walk through the hallway. Establishing this routine early helps maintain order and respect throughout the school year.


Setting Up the Line-Up Routine


1. Define the Line-Up Location:

  • Clear Markings: At the beginning of the year, especially for elementary students, use tape on the floor to mark where the beginning and end of the line are. This visual cue helps students understand exactly where to line up.

  • Precise Instructions: Explain clearly to the students where they need to stand. "This tape marks the beginning of our line. Everyone should line up behind it in a straight line."

2. Establish Voice Levels:

  • Voice Level for Lining Up: Assign a specific voice level for when students are lining up. This helps set the tone for how they should behave before leaving the classroom. "When we line up, we use voice level zero, which means silence."

  • Voice Level for the Hallway: Similarly, establish a voice level for walking through the hallway. "In the hallway, we continue using voice level zero to show respect for other classes."


Practicing Hallway Behavior


1. Practice Regularly:

  • Initial Practice: Practice lining up and walking through the hallway multiple times. "Let's line up quietly. Remember, voice level zero. Now, let's walk through the hallway, staying silent."

  • Real-time Feedback: Provide immediate feedback on their performance. "Great job lining up quietly! Let's see if we can keep that up in the hallway."

2. Correcting Behavior:

  • Specific Feedback: If students don't follow the expectations, stop and provide specific feedback. "We were a bit noisy in the hallway. Let's turn around and try that again."

  • Repetition: Repeating the process helps reinforce the behavior. "Let's line up again and remember, voice level zero in the hallway."

3. Consistency is Key:

  • Persistent Practice: Continue practicing throughout the first week until students consistently follow the expectations. "Practice makes perfect. Let's keep working on lining up and walking quietly."

  • Positive Reinforcement: Praise students when they do well. "Excellent job staying quiet in the hallway! Let's keep that up."


Establishing Expectations for Leaving the Classroom


On the first day with your students, it's crucial to set clear expectations for what to do when they need to leave the classroom, whether it's for going to the nurse, delivering a note to another teacher, or using the bathroom.


Setting Up the Sign-Out Routine


1. Explain the Procedure:

  • Purpose of Signing Out: Emphasize the importance of signing out to keep track of students' whereabouts, especially in emergencies like fire drills or unexpected school drills.

  • Clear Instructions: Explain the specific method you use for signing out. For example: "When you need to leave the classroom, you must sign out. This helps me know where everyone is at all times."

2. Demonstrate the Method:

  • Visual Demonstration: Show students exactly how to sign out. If they need to take their name tag and sign out on a piece of paper or clipboard, demonstrate each step clearly.

  • Practice Session: Allow students to practice the sign-out procedure. "Let's practice signing out. Take your name tag, sign out on the clipboard, and then you can leave the room."

3. Reinforce the Importance:

  • Emergency Situations: Highlight why it's crucial to know their whereabouts, particularly in emergency situations. "It's important for safety reasons to know where everyone is during a fire drill or other emergencies."

  • Consistent Monitoring: Ensure students understand that this routine will be consistently monitored and enforced throughout the year.


By setting clear expectations and demonstrating the sign-out procedure on the first day, you ensure that students understand the importance of this routine. This practice helps maintain safety and order, ensuring that you always know where your students are, which is vital for their safety and your peace of mind. Consistent reinforcement of this routine will help it become a natural part of their daily behavior.


Setting clear expectations on the first day of school is crucial. Aim to be their role model, not their best friend. Praise students for good behavior and use positive language to guide them when corrections are needed. Ask questions like, "How can we do this differently?" or "How can we improve this?" to encourage better behavior and foster a positive learning environment.



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Expectations for first day of school

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