Three must-dos for the first day and week of school

Hello, friends.  It's rare I say something is a must-do, but really, I don't think we can beat around the bush anymore.  Things in society are that urgent these days.  Our students need us to be on point in our classrooms the first day and week of school.  This critical window of time sets the stage for the entire semester.

There are things that either build you up or tear you down.  You decide.

The good news is there are only three must-dos - in my opinion -  you need to carry-out in your classroom during the first day and week of school.  All three can be done on-ground or online (with creative modifications).

Ready for the three?

#1: Mindset training

Do yourself, your students, and society a favor and spend 15-75 minutes leading a lesson or conversation about Dr. Carol Dweck's research on mindset.  For the last three years, I literally won't do anything else on the first day, but spend the entire class period (75 minutes) talking & teaching about mindset only (and honoring the other two must-dos below).  My course syllabus, expectations, upcoming assignments, or delving into course content pails in comparison to the importance of my students understanding mindset and their choice in the mindset matter.

I often use the graphic below in my lesson or mindset conversation, however, this newly released RSA video is so excellent that I plan to use it next time in addition to my regular mindset lesson. Even though the video highlights research related to younger students, I plan to ask my college students:  What does this research mean to you? Even though you are older, how is this research helpful to you as a learner?  What's possible when you embrace a growth mindset?  How will you choose a growth mindset more often this semester? What kind of help or support do you need?

Growth and Fixed Mindset Graphic

For my advanced blog readers and mindset advocates, here's what I do to extend this important lesson: Every 2-3 weeks at the beginning of class, I do a mindset check-in with my students, which generally takes five minutes or less.  I ask my students to share with the class an update regarding their mindset.  Usually, we don't have time for everyone to share, but we get a decent sampling.  I'll ask: Are you being more or less growth minded?  What takes you to a fixed mindset? How do you course correct?  What helps you anchor to a growth mindset? What do you notice about the mindsets around you, your friends and family?  What's possible?

From my experience, dedicating class time to a mindset lesson or conversation is 1000% worth it (Yes!  1,000!).  My students report being more open-minded, honest, willing to try new things and refusing to play the victim anymore. What they overwhelming tell me is how amazed they are they have a choice in the manner.  Isn't that incredible?  They realize they are in charge of their mindset, not life's ups and downs (nor other people) pushing them around.

#2:  Speaking aloud in front of peers

The research from decades ago says you have to have your students talk aloud in front of their peers on the very first day of class in order to set the expectation that you want participation and volunteerism all semester long.  I don't care if you ask students to publicly introduce themselves and share what they did over the summer/winter break (think back to your elementary school days when we all did this).  OR you make speaking-aloud-in-front-of-your-peers more sophisticated.  My solution is to tie speaking-aloud to our class lesson on mindset.  Then, I feed two birds with one feeder, yes?

I typically will introduce the concept of mindset (from above) and ask students to first share with a partner, What do you already know about Dr. Carol Dweck's research? (by the way, hardly any of my students over the past three years know anything about mindset, which is a great indicator they need this lesson!) Then, I will ask students towards the end of our mindset lesson, What did you learn about mindset and your mindset today?  See how easy it is to accomplish #1 and #2?  Let's move onto #3 then.  You can easily include the last must-do in in your mindset lesson.

#3:  Calling each other by first name

Last semester, I overheard a student say, "This is the only class I'm in right now where I know everyone's name."  What?  Out of four classes, this is the only one?  No wonder one of the top reasons college students drop-out of college is because they feel disconnected.  They feel like they are not part of the college, their courses, a peer group, nothing.  Disconnection from others - surprise, surprise - is also one of the top reasons high school students report dropping out of high school.

And guess what?  Feeling disconnected from others is one of the two main profile attributes of terrorists.  Yep.  Disconnection, again.  Spoiler alert:  The other main profile attribute of terrorists is feeling hopeless - sounds like the fixed mindset, doesn't it?  Yep.  The fixed mindset loves to blame others, be the victim, and sees no other alternatives.

Are you picking up what I'm putting down?  These three must-dos are that important.

Bottom line:  Your students need to know each other. They need to feel and be connected.  The easiest way to begin that connection is by knowing each other's names.  Hi, Sarah, I didn't see you in class last week.  Hey there, Tommy, may I borrow your notes?  Hello John, want to form a study group for the midterm exam?


It's so easy to learn each other's names.  My top two strategies in a face-to-face class to have everyone know each other's names include:
  1. I give each student one of those over-sized index cards and a thick marker.  The student folds the index card in half, writes their first name in big letters, and then has a name placard to keep on their desk (and reuse each class) until 3-4 weeks into the course.  By that time, students and I know each other's names from seeing each other's names so consistently.
  2. Every time I ask students to get into pairs or small groups and discuss something, I explicitly instruct them to:  Say hello by first name, then answer the question prompt.  At the end of pairs or small group work, I explicitly say, Thank your partner(s) by first name.  Within 2-3 weeks and different pairings, everyone knows each others's names because they've said each other's names so often and I am explicit about those directions (and expectations).  In a larger class, this will obviously take more time, but it is doable.
Holy moly that was a longer blog post than I intended.  

Important stuff equals a longer blog post, I suppose.

Please let me know if I missed anything or if you have any questions!  I'm so hungry because I was in flow writing this post that I'm about to become fixed minded if I don't feed myself immediately. #hangry

Off I go - It's dinner time, friends!


PS - (I just ate dinner, so I'm back!) I've been using the Coaching Cards Jackie and I developed to help fend off the fixed mindset and anchor me more lately to the growth mindset.  As I mentioned in this blog post, the Coaching Cards are now part of my everyday essentials.