Hope springs eternal at the beginning of the school year. Teachers are refreshed. Students are excited. This is bound to be the best year yet!
While each portion of the school year holds its unique challenges, the beginning of the school year is one of the most important times. It is when we lay the foundation of the entire school community.
During the first few weeks of school, for many classrooms, a mysterious phenomenon occurs where student behavior is all but perfect. Everyone is focused, happy and eager to follow all directions. Students who have had a long history of displaying behavioral challenges present as “cured.” In the school culture, this is the so-called “Honeymoon.”
In reality, the “Honeymoon” is not mysterious at all. It is human nature. When most people are thrust into a new situation, they tend to spend some time “laying low” while they figure out the “rules” of the situation. For example, on a first date, we don’t tend to share all of our quirks and idiosyncrasies. We wait until we are more comfortable and feel safe before being our “true selves.” Or, if we go to a party, we may spend a little time surveying the situation prior to totally relaxing and being ourselves. And, with a new job, we don’t head into the first meeting “guns blazing” with new ideas and feedback for the team. We wait, take stock of the situation, figure out the rules, then we begin to express ourselves. We all honeymoon at some points in our lives.
During this honeymoon phase, my job is pretty quiet. There aren’t many crises and everyone seems to be having a grand time. When I check-in with teachers, I tend to hear how great their classrooms are. When I meet with students, they tell me how much they love school. The honeymoon period can seduce even the most veteran teacher…..
As a school, what should we be doing during the honeymoon? How can we take advantage of this relatively quiet time? What goals should we be focusing on?
First, we must understand that for many of our students, the honeymoon is an exploratory time where they are trying to answer two primary questions:
1. What are the rules?
2. Are these rules going to be enforced?”
In general, how these questions are answered will determine if the students will feel safe in your classroom. In order to answer these student questions, I offer the six following suggestions:
Honeymoon Period Interventions:
Go over all the rules – everyday - for the first month of school: It’s boring, it’s repetitive and it can seem like a waste of time, but it will pay off. Be sure to be concrete. Many students do not understand abstract concepts such as “be respectful”. Make the abstract, evident. What does “being respectful” look like in your classroom? Lay it out for them. Give many examples.
Go over the consequences – everyday – for the first month of school: If you have students who are coming to school from backgrounds where rules have not been consistently enforced, they may enter your classroom with a seeming lack of respect for rules and consequences. Your job is to teach them that school rules are important and that there are both good and bad consequences in response to student behavior. The best way to teach this is to be clear and consistent so that each time a student does “A,” - - in response, “B” happens every time. You should also explain some of the specific consequences for particular behaviors such as: Not completing homework, failure to complete classwork etc…
Practice Transitions and an Entry Routine: Transitions are a large part of a school day. Poor transitions typically result in two major problems: 1. The loss of valuable, allocated teaching time and 2. Opportunities for inappropriate student interactions to occur – which then lead to behavior problems during the next activity.
You must explicitly teach students how to transition. Again, do not take anything for granted.Many students will not see any value in having a great transition in the hallway.Have rules and consequences.Practice your transitions multiple times per day.Go for perfection. Quiet, efficient transitions are the cornerstone of effective classroom management.Make it an expectation that all transitions are up to a particular standard.Make it fun. Set group goals for your transitions.Use it as a group building activity.
Additionally, the most important transition during the school day is the first one – when students enter your room in the morning.Create a transition routine for the beginning of the day that, after it is taught, the students can do relatively independently.Starting off with a quiet and efficient transition to school will set the stage for the rest of the day.
Practice the bathroom routine (grades k-6): It is important to not make any assumptions about what skills students have. In regard to the bathroom, many students will need to be taught (and re-taught) how to use a public bathroom appropriately. As with transitions, issues with the bathroom can lead to both loss of teaching time and result in behavior problems during the following activity. It is important for teachers to establish bathroom rules and protocols that are clear and concrete and to teach these protocols every day.
Establish where students get the good stuff (that’s from you!): Take every opportunity to have fun with your students. Establish yourself as a fountain of specific verbal praise and attention. Discover all you can about each student and focus your attention on developing a positive, working relationship with them. Intersperse every lesson with something that you believe is reinforcing to the students. Work to find out what things/activities are valuable to your students. Go to recess. Play games. Have fun.
Establish where students are taught about behavior (that’s from you!): In most schools there are a variety of staff members who play a role in addressing behavior. During the honeymoon period, as the classroom teacher, it is important for you to establish yourself as THE provider of all consequences (both positive and negative). As the chief adult in the room, the students need to view you as the bottom line when it comes to behavior. I suggest to teachers that for the first month of school, they should assume that they would be using at least a portion of their lunch break in order to provide some “behavioral remediation” lessons to a few students. While the use of the Planning Room or office may become part of a comprehensive behavior plan for a student, during the first few weeks of school, you should do everything in your power to develop a relationship with each student that reinforces the fact that you are the primary adult in charge. If the situation arises where you find yourself having to send a student out of your room, be sure to follow up immediately with the student and whichever staff member he/she was sent to. Always connect yourself in whatever way possible with the consequences that that student receives.
As we come to the end of the first week of school, I imagine that everyone is hopeful and excited about the year. I believe that it is going to be a great school year and our students are going to make great academic and behavioral gains. But, as we all know, as the weeks progress, the glow of the first weeks of school will fade and at that point we will all have to admit that:
Best of luck with the beginning of the school year!
Gregg Stoller MSW, BCBA