My mission on the first day of school is to create culture. I want them to be excited about the possibilities of the coming year, rather than giving them a list of things they cannot do. NOBODY gets excited about what you cannot do. It goes against our human nature. Let me explain.
Think of a commercial. The “legal” stuff (what the product can or cannot do ) comes after the “good stuff” (why you want to buy it). Prescription ad’s are the best example. It usually starts by giving you a glimpse of how your life can be better with the new medicine, then it goes into the warnings. Car ads talk of “low payments” or “attractive lease rates” before letting you know the bottom line. If you’re a Saturday Night Live fan (and over 35), you probably remember the “Happy Fun Ball” mock commercial where the kids first pitch the product, then goes into ninety seconds of warnings, including: “Happy Fun Ball can accelerate to dangerous speeds,” and “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.”
So why should we do this? To capture the student’s mind! They don’t want to focus on what they CANNOT do, they are wanting to be inspired! That first impression of your class is so important. The students come in, are excited to see all his/her friends, wear the new outfit, possess all the new supplies, then hear an hours worth of things they CANNOT DO? Seriously?
When this happens, teachers have set a culture of limitations. You may have not meant to do this, but this is the reality. The mood goes from wonderment to negativity immediately. Creativity is lost, and hopes are dashed. Yes, it is possible for the teacher to circle the wagons and get to the “exciting” stuff the next day, but again, it goes against what human nature years for: hope.
Students want to go home and enthusiastically tell his/her parents about the new class. They are excited about the possibilities, not the limitations. Thus, when I want to set the tone, I let them know that my class is designed to allow risk. That they will be allowed to take chances, fail, then succeed. I love giving stories to illustrate (see my last blog on story telling and positive male role models) how the journey might be played out. Maybe its a story of how my daughter Anna began to walk; maybe its a story about my hardest college class. The point in doing all this is to let them know that trial-and-error is welcomed here.
Let me also explain that I don’t think fits for everyone. I teach high school and they get the concept of failing as a part of learning. I’m sure that some teachers would not feel comfortable in saying “were all gonna fail!” as a tone to set. What I am saying, however, is to find the key concept of your class. Maybe it’s compassion, maybe it’s the love of learning, possibly it’s curiosity. Whatever the theme, go with the positive aspects of your class: the possibilities of learning, the passion of curiosity. This sets the tone for the rest of the year… your class journey. Not a list of what they can’t do!
No commercial will start off with “minimum payments must be made, or we will re-possess the vehicle,” or “taking this pill, though unlikely, can result in death.” I can already here the complaint of “children are not consumers to be pitched to,” and I (somewhat) agree. However, we ARE selling our class/ our concepts to them everyday. Last year I read Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human, and it opened up my mind to my sales pitch. How am I tailoring my message to my consumers… my students? While many educators like his book Drive (one of my all time favorite) and consider it a catalyst in promoting “20% Time,” I think educators should be just as attuned to his message of salesmanship. Again, teachers are selling their concepts/lessons/methods every day in class.
Thus, take a page out of the Marketing 101 handbook: Do not start off with the “legal stuff.” Creativity and wonderment will go out of the window if you do. Hit them with your key concept, let them know we are here to experience the journey together! Let them know that you want them to be better people, and not just take a test.
Do this, and I promise your students will start off excited. They will want to be in your class! The possibilities will be swimming in his/her head as they think about the year to come!
*Some results may vary. Consult your physician before you take my advice.