Elementary and secondary teachers can have a tremendous amount of control in how they want their students to experience learning in their classrooms. The nice thing about teaching in secondary, particularly in a semestered school, is that you get twice as many opportunities to establish an environment for learning that students will thrive in.
In most areas in Ontario, semester one is wrapping up and semester two is just around the corner. This should be a time when secondary teachers are beginning to prepare what those first few days will look like. When I started a semester, the first thing I did was photocopy the course outline with its list of units that we would study and its assessment break down and the homework and missed assignment policies. And these are all really important pieces of information that we need to share with students… but on the very first day? Is that the first impression that I want students to have of my class? Is that the first thing that I want my students to understand…compliance?
I should be starting on the first day with the things that I value most about learning. So that should be what I’m thinking about right now. How do I show my students what I value most about learning and hence, what I want them to value about learning? And certainly compliance is part of what we all have to understand but it shouldn’t be the very first thing that I want them to understand. I think “rules” should be a little ways down the to do list. If I really value a collaborative learning environment then I should be arranging my classroom accordingly and establishing norms and structures around how they will collaborate for learning. Sitting students together and giving them an assignment to work on together doesn’t mean that they will magically learn together. It’s like putting your basketball team through some drills in the first practice. You need to evaluate their skills first and then build them up so they can use them effectively. I made a number of assumptions about what my students were capable of during the semester but I may have underestimated some of their capabilities because I didn’t do enough work to prepare them for learning in the first couple of weeks.