About Lori H Rice

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading as well as kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade since 1996. She has a passion for creativity, learning, questioning and the whole child. Her classroom is a place of acceptance and celebrating differences.

The excitement, and exhaustion, of the first day of school cannot be matched by anything else.  It’s the first opportunity to meet your students and set the tone for your year.  When my students walk through my door I want them to know they are loved.  This is a space for learning which is messy and unexpected.  We are building a community to support, help, encourage and celebrate each other.  This space is theirs and we will spend the year learning together.

There are a few important first day musts in my room.  These things can be done in any classroom, with any age student, in any environment.  You may need to adjust the pace or the materials, but these things are important to set the stage and make your first impression memorable.

1.  Introduce yourself and make a connection.  Share pictures of your family, pets, or hobbies and tell a story about your summer.  Be the example you want to see in your students by sharing something you learned this summer or a goal you set, strived for and maybe even reached.  Last May I ran my first half-marathon.  I shared the process leading up to running a half-marathon with my class last year and I plan to put pictures and my medal in the hallway so they can see the rewards of the effort.  Let student know what your goals are for this school year.  The smallest piece of your life can help make a connection.  These connections will help your classroom environment grow throughout the year.  Learning occurs where students feel connected.

2.  Provide an invitation for students to share themselves.  Offer opportunities for students to meet their peers.  If you have new students, be aware of the connections they are making.  I like to take my students outside and let them move and greet each other.  Play some music, and when the music stops everyone quickly finds a partner.  Each pair should shake hands and introduce themselves.  I also have my students say one thing they like.  If you have a reluctant student walk beside them and you can introduce yourself while they observe.  Be sure you participate in the musical introduction too.  I always look for the students who are reluctant and become their partner.  Introducing yourself to a new group can be scary.

Throughout the day use getting to know you activities or ice breakers for students to share about themselves.  Respect those students who are nervous or shy.  Not everyone is comfortable in new situations. Invite them to share, but remember this new environment is a safe space so they should be respected if they decline.  That is your opportunity to use your teacher skills to connect and help them develop themselves as they come out of their shell this year.  Inviting students to learn about each other helps them become part of the learning community.  Proving this is a safe space sets a tone of trust for the year.

3.  Share your expectations and discuss what is important in your classroom community.  I always discuss with my fourth graders what my job is and what their job is.  It is fun to see what responsibilities they think we each have in the classroom. Be sure you have students provide input as you discuss classroom rules.  Be clear in your expectations for procedures (practice these over the next month) and for behavior (practice this over the next month).  Each classroom is like its own little state and each state has similar and yet different laws.  Help students understand how your classroom rules work and what you expect for their behavior.  Being clear in your expectations sets the stage for success.

4.  Have fun and allow your students to be creative.  I always provide my students with an opportunity to use those brand new supplies (with a stash for anyone who may not have any).  My favorite first day memory was when I was teaching kindergarten.  We were coloring.  The fresh smell of crayon wax and perfectly sharpened crayons were in their tiny little hands.  One students did not have a red color, or being 5 could probably just not locate it, and his neighbor in mid color broke his red crayon in half, handed half to his new friend, and finished coloring his own picture.  A friendship instantly was formed.

I also like to read aloud a few times during the first day.  Literature books can be shared at any age.  We use the books for discussion points, writing prompts, and as sketch-to-stretch activities.  Below are a list of a few of my first day favorites.

  • Don’t Eat the Teacher by Nick Ward
  • It’s Time for School Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt
  • First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
  • Charlie the Caterpillar by Dom Deluise
  • Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
  • The Teacher from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler
  • Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
  • Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook by Michael Garland

The first day of school brings endless possibility.  Nerves and excitement set the background for a stage that will develop and grow all year-long. Remember to share pieces of yourself, invite students to share pieces of themselves, create and have fun.  Weave in rules and procedures with stores, books and opportunities to share.  The connections you make and the tone you set will be the impression your students take away for the year.  Enjoy your day!

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