The first week of school is scary for all students. And boring. It is filled with syllabus review and lunch room rules. I want my students’ first day to be filled with friendliness. This year, to do this I started the year with telling my students about me. I have a philosophy that if students see you as a human, they are more likely to respect you and your class. After sharing about me, my family, my history, and my life, we played a fun game of Kahoot about me.
On day one, I wanted to make my expectations clear: I want you to do your best all year. That’s all I ask. To start this conversation, I showed them one of my favorite TED Talks: “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist who studies grit in many different aspects. When finished with the TED Talk, I asked each class, “Why would I show you this on day one?” One of my 6th grade girls said it the best, “You showed it to us because you want us to do our best all year because effort and wanting to grow is really important.” Our district has been focusing on growth mindset in students and teachers, and the idea of grit fits this goal.
Finally, I also introduced my students to the idea of OneWord365–that instead of setting unrealistic and too many goals, pick a word that summarizes the path they want the year to take. Most of the students’ choices included words that fit the growth mindset. Once each student had turned in their word to me, we then picked One Word for each class that embodied everyone’s word. Our words are: determination, try, and happiness.
Sidenote: I did this activity on our first day of preplanning with my entire staff, and I only got positive feedback about it. Each teacher came up their own One Word then as a PLC (professional learning community) they came up with a summarizing word and a visual representation.
Tuesday was Code of Conduct and Syllabus day, so it was a bit boring; however, I fancied up my syllabus this year, so it was a bit more fun to look at:
I redid my rules this year to be called “Expectations” and to be short, sweet, and what I really see as important in humans:
- Be kind
- Be respectful
- Be responsible
- Do your best
Wednesday was all about getting to know my students. Each year I have my students fill out an interesting and reading survey to help me get to know them. Wednesday was also BOOK DAY! Students were so excited to be able to dive into my classroom library. As students looked for books and filled out their survey, I went around to help with book selection and make discussion.
Each year in the first week, I make sure to read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson to my students. With looping students, I try not to duplicate from year to year, but this is a text that I read at the beginning of the school year no matter what. Why? Because it uses Chloe’s tough lesson of not being kind to Maia to teach us about the power of kindness ripples and how they can affect the universe.
When we finished the book, I point out that Chloe wasn’t “bad” nor a “bully” but what she did by excluding Maia was devastating. I asked them to think about something in their life that they could do just a bit kinder: either broad like smiling at strangers more or specific like being nicer to a certain person. They then set kindness goals for the year which I’ll post for the entire year.
Friday it was once again about getting to know my students. I introduced them to the idea of six-word memoirs. First, we talked about Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story (“For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn”) and the power of his six words and how Smith Magazine took the idea and turned it into people writing their memoir in six words.
To help them understand the idea, I showed them the Six Magazine You Tube video with teens’ six-word memoirs:
And I shared fiction characters’ six-word memoirs:
- Cinderella: Sometimes the shoes you pick matter OR Sometimes fairy godmothers do show up.
- Simba: Don’t believe an uncle with scars.
- Alice: Down the rabbit hole yet again.
- Romeo: Loving someone may very much kill
Then I gave them Smith Magazine’s six tips for writing a six-word memoir:
- It only works if it is personal.
- Limitations force you to be creative.
- Get inspired by reading other memoirs.
- Like any story, make revisions.
- Put the best six words in the best order.
- Publish your story to inspire others. (Though I made it clear this was optional)
And I sent them on their way, and the response has been phenomenal (shared only those with permission given):
- Fear is my greatest enemy, always. -Amy, 6th grade
- I fear an average human life. -Anonymous, 6th grade
- Books are portals, go through them. -Anonymous, 6th grade
- Music–the best thing that happened. -Anonymous, 6th grade
- Sibling always wanted. Five years old. -Anonymous, 6th grade
- Hospital. Diagnosed. Kept on living great. -Daniel, 6th grade
- If you believe, you can succeed.” -Ian, 6th grade
- Face what scares you most. -Lorenza, 7th grade
- The great outdoors is my indoors. -Alexandra, 7th grade
- Life is like a hard dream. -Anonymous, 7th grade
- Who I am is not clear. -Anonymous, 7th grade
- You can die happy or unhappy. -Anonymous, 7th grade
- Hufflepuff isn’t the same without me. -Vanessa, 7th grade
- Family means nobody gets left behind. -Anonymous, 7th grade
- I said it was impossible. “Nevermind.” -Anonymous, 7th grade
- Stop being worried and live life. -Anonymous, 7th grade
- Why do people tell unnecessary lies? -Anonymous, 8th grade
- Why do girls create unnecessary drama? -Emily, 8th grade
- Don’t think twice, or never achieve. -Anonymous, 8th grade
- Fake smiles, fake laugh, real tears. -Anonymous, 8th grade
- It is not just a game. -Christian, 8th grade
- 2009: Plane ticket–Egypt to America. -Clara, 8th grade
- Your separation made everything more difficult. -Amanda, 8th grade
- See you later, Island of Enchantment. -Lucas, 8th grade
- Dancing is how I express myself. -Ashley, 8th grade
- Parents can never stick together forever. -Anonymous, 8th grade
- Try your best; get better results. -Anonymous, 8th grade
- Divorce can break a child’s heart. -Anonymous, 8th grade
- Prepared to succeed; failed of hesitation. -Anonymous, 8th grade
It is through these activities that I show my students that I care for them.
What do you do your first week of school?
3 thoughts on “In the Middle School: Setting Up the School Year in Week One with Expectations, Kindness Goals, One Word Goals, and Six-Word Memoirs”
Love these suggestions, Kellee! Six-word memoirs are so great and manageable, making each student feel like a writer during their very first week of school.
Your library policy note to parents is clear and proactive. I don’t know if that’s what you wanted me to take away from it, but there you have it 🙂