by Stephanie Bartlett
Think back to your first day of school. What were some of the actions, emotions and experiences that you remember as a student?
Fifty teachers met in late August with CBE Learning Services for a three-day institute on Design Thinking. Participants were given an initial design challenge of “How might we redesign the first day of school?” The dominant themes that emerged from the first round of ideation revealed the necessity of a creating a safe place, the presence of positive and negative emotions, fear of the unknown, routines, the beginning of a journey, friendship and storytelling.
Our group created a point of view statement to help figure out the problem we wanted to solve:
All learners need a way to feel safe because when we belong and feel confident, we are more able to take risks and make discoveries in our learning.
Why would we want to redesign the first day? The first day is always a new beginning. Teachers create amazing opportunities and get to know you games to help children feel welcome. Paperwork and information gathering is also an essential part of the day. There is always an element of uncertainty and excitement as a new group comes together at the beginning of a school year.
As I sat down to plan my first day, I reflected on my values as an educator and as a person. What did I want students to feel? What did I want students and their families to know about me? Community is an integral part of my pedagogical beliefs. To teach a child to the best of my ability means that I need to form a relationship with not only the student, but with the parents, so that we can best work with the child. With this belief in mind, I jumped into my redesign.
I took note of the feedback I received when I told people about the redesign. Comments and questions ranged from negative to positive as they asked me why, pointed out the potential for problems with separation when it became time to say goodbye, or nodded approvingly, saying that it sounded like a refreshing idea. Not one to back away from a risk or change, I forged ahead with my plans. On the day before school started, flowers, plates and snacks were on my to-do list to add to what I hoped was a welcoming classroom.
The most significant change that I made was inviting the parents into the classroom with the students. For the first forty-five minutes of the day, we mingled, shared a snack, and parents explored the classroom with their children. I watched as they sat and played or drew with their children and then began to introduce themselves to other parents.
When the timing seemed right, I taught everyone our stop signal and asked students and their parents to clean up together and say goodbye to each other. We laughed together when more students than parents heard the stop signal when I used it the first time. We learned to say “au revoir” and then joined each other on the carpet to read a story.
Having a social time to mingle and share food together created the effect I hoped to achieve. Building on the belief that I want to create a safe and happy environment where students can feel comfortable enough to take risks in their learning, this was the first chance of many to model the importance of building a close-knit community. It is my guess that our first experience together smoothed out some anxious feelings of both parents and children. It felt peaceful and invigorating at the same time and I am looking forward to the beautiful year of learning and relationships that lies ahead.