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The First Week of School: What Do I Do?


Happy Back-to-School season!

One question newer teachers always ask their colleagues is: “What do I do the first week of school?”

My answer is always the same: “Routines and procedures sprinkled in with content.”

What I mean by this is as educators we have to prepare our students to be successful and by just diving right into new content knowledge, we aren’t meeting students where they are. We must teach students in a detailed, repetitive way how to navigate the new world in our classroom from the first thing to do once they enter to the last thing.

That is where teachers feel overwhelmed. How can I possibly teach students how I expect them to behave and interact in my classroom when I have a laundry list of content topics I have to teach starting day one?

Some teachers might suggest just focusing on teaching academic and behavioral procedures the first few days of school and the content can wait until later. On the other hand, other teachers might suggest diving right into content and students will just figure out procedures later on.

As you can imagine, neither of these scenarios sets students up for success because the magic is in synergy of the two working together.

I suggest teaching light content with room to go over procedures. Here’s why:

If we just teach procedure after procedure, students are not understanding its connection to their everyday learning experience because it is taught in isolation. When you begin to teach content and a procedure is required naturally, that is the time to teach it. Now students can understand how and why they must follow procedures. Plus, teaching procedures is a nice brain break from learning rigorous content as students get back into the swing of things after school starting.

Here’s an example of a first day of school schedule for a third grade classroom:

  • 8:00 – Welcome students at the door, students find their seats labeled with a name tag, unpack and store supplies, and begin an assignment placed on the desk or board
  • 8:15– Take attendance, share personal introduction + daily entry procedure
  • 8:20 – Social Studies + interactive notebook procedure
  • 9:00 – Reading + small group rotations procedure
  • 10:45 – Writing + mini lesson transition procedure
  • 11:30– Specials + hallway procedure
  • 12:15– Lunch + bathroom procedure
  • 12:45 – Recess + Playground rules and expectations
  • 1:15 – 2:45– Math + centers and early finisher procedures
  • 2:45 – Homework and  Announcements + closing procedures
  • 2:55 – Dismissal + Bus expectations

In terms of what to do the rest of the week, continue with a light content load while sprinkling in more procedures. If you need ideas for activities to do with students, I suggest any of these:

Remember, just because you teach something one time does not mean students will master it. The first few days of school you will continue rolling out the same procedures with less support each day while adding in a few more procedures to close out the week. By the end of week one, a routine is becoming more apparent and each block of time is devoted to teaching more content and less procedures.

A quick note, I generally do not pull small groups the first week because 1) I do not have students sorted into appropriate achievement and/or skill levels yet and 2) I observe and manage behavior expectations heavily during the first week until students can appropriately adhere to classroom protocol without teacher intervention.

With that said, week two is where I can finally take any pre-test data and place students into appropriate groups and begin rolling out small group and 1:1 meeting procedures. Content is in full swing now, but I always take time to re-roll out procedures after long weekends or holiday breaks from school.

This method of teaching content immediately while sprinkling in procedures where it naturally is appropriate has ensured a well-run classroom of high student achievement. Intentional and purposeful planning, whether its content or procedure, is a teaching best practice.

My last bit of advice is to check with your administrative team to see what safety protocol they require you teach (fire, tornado, earthquake, lock down drills, etc.). There are often school-wide drills to be completed mandated by the city the first month of school.

Above all else, have a great time teaching because these kids look up to you and already love you as their teacher!

If you need ideas for what to be preparing before the school year begins, snag this list here.


What do you do the first week of school?


About the author, Gretchen

I am a teacher trainer and coach. Working elbow to elbow with teachers and teacher leaders to ensure instructional proficiency and student achievement soar lights me up. We have a real need in our nation for strong educators to remain in the field. My blog, book, podcast, courses and instructional materials are geared towards empowering teachers (and those that lead them) to receive the support needed to grow and thrive today, tomorrow and always.