right after lunch on the first day of school, a mother walked into my
classroom with her son. Everett didn't come to school that morning because
his mother didn't think it was very important." Minty O'Brian is
describing an incident that forced her to realize that by the first afternoon
of the first day her class had already become a community. "Because
Everett arrived in class a few hours after the other children, he became
'the new kid' when he showed up that afternoon. That's how powerful the
morning's learning experience is for my students."
Minty has taught
every grade in her K5 school. "I want to know where they've been
and where they're going!" she tells me. Her procedure for the first
morning of the first day is the same with minor variations no matter
what grade she's teaching. She sets a tone of respect and decency that
gives students structure and comfort. She establishes routines with her
students. "When you assume the best motives for your students and
when they know what it is they are supposed to do you can almost see
the anxiety of that first morning vanish."
How Minty O'Brian
Gets Her Students Off to the Right Start
She Greets Children
Warmly. "You can sit wherever you want to right now." Minty
greets each student as they enter the classroom. She modulates her voice
to maintain a soft and relaxed tone. "Later I'm going to change the
seats." Minty reserves the right to place children in seating patterns,
but she makes that information clear to the class right away.
- She Uses Nonverbal
Cues. "You are able to sit longer and to pay attention if you center
your body in your seat."
After the children
are settled at their desks Minty begins teaching them nonverbal signals
that she uses with consistency throughout the year.
She models how to sit
"comfortable and tall" which eventually becomes "comfortably
tall" as the year progresses. "If you need to be reminded to sit
comfortable and tall I will tap your shoulder." She does, and
every child sits up. Nonverbal clues are a respectful way to remind students
about procedures they might have forgotten. Such signals diminish the teacher's
voice as an enforcer and make for a much more peaceful environment.
Moving her chair
is another nonverbal signal that Minty repeats daily. "When you see
me pull my chair over to the side of the room and sit down, that should
be a signal for you to come up and sit down. Please cross your arms in front
of you and place your whole body so that you can see me." When the
children are seated "comfortably tall" Minty reads them Chicka
Chicka Boom Boom (by Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault, illustrated
by Lois Ehlert) or another story or poem that requires choral reading or
responses from the class. "Chick-a-Boom/Chick-a-Boom Boom Boom. . .
" they repeat with obvious delight.
- She Allows for
Differences in Learning Styles and Pace. "You may go back to your
seat and write a story. Or you may stay on the rug and ask me a question."
Minty begins to model the routine that will follow their coming together.
Beginning the next day she will use this time to teach a mini-lesson in
the writing process and introduce a concept in math. Those who have no questions
are free to return to their seats and work on the open-ended problems in
writing or math. Those who have questions remain on the rug.
This procedure allows
for differences in learning. Students who are able to move ahead by themselves
are free to begin; they are not held up with questions that have little
meaning for them. Those who need more attention learn to ask the questions
that will help Minty guide their learning.
Herself as the Authority. When many children appear to have finished
their first assignment Minty says to the class, "See if you can find
a space in the room where you can stand without touching the furniture
or one another. Make sure you have room to move your arms." Minty
models for the class. Soon they are all stationed around the classroom.
"Make sure you can all see my eyes." This time she establishes
herself as the authority.
- She Introduces
a Fun Activity. When every eye is on her she picks up a large rag doll.
"I'd like to introduce you to my friend, Raggedy Ann."
RAGGEDY ANN IS MY
is my best friend
She's just so
Just watch her
First from the
Then from the
Her arms are
Oh, so free
Her head rolls
Like a rubber
She hasn't any
bones at all
But Raggedy Ann
Can stand up
Minty taps her shoulder,
reminding the class to stand tall. "Listen to the poem and watch Raggedy."
She twists and turns the doll, letting it flop around. She moves her limbs
and body in a loose and easy way. She's obviously enjoying herself as she
repeats the poem. "Now it's your turn," she tells the students.
Even the most shy have now joined in. Everyone loves being silly.
- Good Posture Indicates
Respect. "Do you remember how you were supposed to sit?" Can
you return to your seats and show me?" Minty has brought the procedures
full circle. She tries to seat the doll, but Raggedy slumps all over herself.
"Why can't the doll sit 'beautiful and tall'?"
offer several reasons. Minty focuses on two: It doesn't have a brain. It
has no bones. Minty uses this discussion to reinforce the ideas that we're
different from Raggedy Ann, because humans use a brain to think and because
they have a structure in their bodies that supports good posture.
It's time for
lunch. Minty has used this first morning in a carefully sequenced way to
introduce the experience of being a member of a caring community. She has
also prepared students for their afternoon science lesson on the human body!
As the weeks continue she will add additional procedures. Each will be taught
deliberately through modeling, demonstration, practice, and validation.
to Practice During the First Weeks of School
- Bathroom routines
- Moving to partner
or group work
- Getting paper or other
materials to begin task
- Walking through the
- Solving a problem
without first asking the teacher for help
- Caring for pets, plants,
and materials in the classroom
- Putting books and
materials away after they have been used
from Nancy Letts' book Creating
a Caring Classroom