Build engagement from the first day of school

Having a great first day of school

As the first day of school approaches many teachers will be planning how to maximise student engagement in the classroom. One of the best strategies is to build strong student-teacher relationships.

Teacher-student relationships play an essential role in a child’s motivation and engagement.[1] Maulana R., Opdenakker M. C., Stroet K., Bosker R. ‘Changes in teachers’ involvement versus rejection and links with academic motivation ...continue When strong they can serve as a protective factor for maintaining interest and active engagement in learning, even when a child struggles academically.

The following 4 ideas will help you get off to a good start from the first day of school.

  • Greet each student as they enter your classroom. If appropriate, ask them to say their name and something about themselves. Individual greetings enable you to begin the lesson or day with a positive connection with each child. You can also notice their mood, and build awareness of interests, likes and dislikes. Encourage students to say ‘Good morning’ back and to look at you when they speak. For more on this read the Psych4Schools blog, Greeting your students as they enter the classroom.
  • Be over-prepared (for anything). If you are well prepared, you will feel more confident and calmer. Some students will notice and some may be impressed by this! The more prepared you are, the less likely you are to be thrown by something unexpected, allowing you to engage better with students.
    Where possible, arrive early, have the room prepared, and materials available or set up ready to go. Know:

    • How to use all available technology in the classroom.
    • Who has medical conditions, and where action plans, inhalers, epi-pens, first aid kits, and any other medication will be kept.
    • Who has learning difficulties, how these difficulties impact on their ability to learn, any limitations in their interactions with others, and strategies to assist.
    • How you will handle any small (and large) behavioural issues. Source ideas by reading the Psych4Schools ebooklet, Working with children who are disengaged and unmotivated in the classroom, particularly the section ‘Effectively manage low-level disruptive classroom behaviours’.
  • Plan fun, engaging hands on learning activities to convey that learning in your classroom can be fun. Include activities that:
    • Involve team work – such as solving a novel problem, playing a game, or a small-scale scavenger hunt for missing classroom items!
    • Allow you to know more about each student, and them about each other.
    •  Combine the subject taught with the real world or students’ interests.
    • For more activity ideas, see Teaching with a Mount View.
  • Work with students to create behavioural expectations from the first day. For some teachers, this will mean creating classroom rules, and/or reviewing school rules. An alternate approach is to create a classroom charter.[2] The classroom charter is part of the evidence-based emotional intelligence RULER Program. Supported by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. To create a charter the teacher leads a class discussion about how students wish to feel while at school. Help students to narrow the list to 4-6 feelings. Use these feelings to guide further discussion about how students and teachers need to behave to achieve each of the feelings.
    Draw on these feelings and behavioural expectations to develop a class charter. The charter will include the expectations. Creating a charter can help students to feel safe, valued and respected in the classroom from their first day. Creating it together as a class can build a sense of community. Read how one class created its charter, ‘No more lists of rules: Ask kids how they want to feel.’

For more on building classroom engagement download the Psych4Schools ebooklet Working with children who are disengaged and unmotivated in the classroom. The full text ebooklet is available to download for Psych4Schools members only here. Non-members can purchase the ebooklet in our shop, or read an excerpt in our free resources section.
Zoe Ganim, Psychologist

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