Teaching Opinion

Response: Don’t Wait Until Christmas To Smile

By Larry Ferlazzo — August 18, 2012 9 min read
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(NOTE: This is the last post in a three-part series on starting off the new school year strong. You can see Part One here and Part Two here)

It’s that time again, so ten days ago I asked the first question “kicking-off” this blog’s second “season":

“What’s your best advice on getting the new school year off to a good start?”

In addition to resources I’ve gathered at The Best Resources For Planning The First Day Of School, I’ve asked several guests to respond to the question.

Part One
in this series included guest responses from author educators Rick Wormeli and Roxanna Elden. Last Wednesday, teachers Neil Wetherbee, Marsha Ratzel,Jessica Lahey, and Robyn Shulman shared their ideas.

Today, I’ll begin by offering some brief suggestions, and I’m lucky enough to have two exceptional guests also commenting: author/educators Annette Breaux and Neila A. Connors. In addition, I’m including suggestions from readers.

I try to emphasize five elements in my class during the whole year, and they are especially important during the first week of school:

1. Building Relationships: Are we taking the time to build positive relationships with our students? As Robert Marzano writes:

Positive relationships between teachers and students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction. If the relationship is strong, instructional strategies seem to be more effective. Conversely, a weak or negative relationship will mute or even negate the benefits of even the most effective instructional strategies.

You can find a list of useful relationship-building strategies here, including the exceptional article that recently appeared in Education Week Teacher, Five Practices for Building Positive Relationships With Students.

2. Setting & Enforcing High Expectations: Are we setting and enforcing high expectations, along with being realistic in our outlook? Are we providing the necessary scaffolding so that students understand our expectations and have the tools to meet them? Some students may be coming to our classes after years of feeling like they’ve been labeled “slow” or of comfortably knowing how to “get by.” It might take some time for students to become accustomed to high expectations, and some might need extra support to achieve them. However, if we take the time to build relationships so we can learn their interests, dreams, and hopes, we can help them see how having high expectations for themselves can be in their self-interest.

3. Engaging Lessons With The “Why?” Built Into Them:: Are our lessons engaging students -- from the beginning -- in higher order thinking skills, and is it clear to them why it is in their self-interest to learn what is being taught? A lesson that I use in the first week is helping them learn that the brain is like a muscle -- that it gets stronger as we learn new things. Through it, they learn that what a student once told me is not true: “You’re born as dumb or as smart as you’re ever going to be.” You can download that lesson, including student hand-outs, here (click on “Click for PDF sample pages”).

4. Using Formative Assessments: Are we using formative assessments regularly, and starting right away? At our school, we have students complete short cloze (fill-in-the-blank)passages and have students read to us for one minute at a time to roughly measure fluency. Not only do they give us a sense of where students are starting, we do them regularly so students can quickly see how much progress they can make by working hard.

5. Connecting With Parents: Are we connecting with the parents of our students? Having a good relationship with parents of students has been shown shown in numerous studies as benefiting student achievement. We can start it off by calling them during the first week of school (or even before) to introduce ourselves and share how excited we are to have their child in our class and to start the new year. It’s also a great opportunity to ask about times when their child has been most excited about being in school.

Well, that’s enough for my advice. Let’s go to my guests!

Response From Annette Breaux

Annette Breaux is an internationally-renowned author and speaker. She is the author of 101 Answers for New Teachers and Their Mentors. She has also co-authored books with Harry Wong and Todd Whitaker. She may be contacted at AnnetteLBreaux@yahoo.com or on Twitter @AnnetteBreaux:

My first piece of advice for getting the school year started well is NOT to listen to anyone who tells you, “Whatever you do, don’t smile until Christmas!” That is some of the worst advice you will ever receive.

If your first (and daily) impression on your students is not a positive one, you’re doomed to a miserable school year, and so are your students. The fact is that students need (and deserve) to be surrounded by positive adults. No student can possibly benefit from having another negative adult in his life. And none of us can ever have enough positive role models in our lives. So why is it that there are teachers in classrooms who do not appear happy? And how do you think it would feel, as a student, to spend an entire school year in the classroom of someone who appears unhappy and serious most of the time? This is not to suggest that when a student behaves inappropriately, you should appear happy about it. Use your common sense in this situation. The most effective teachers know how to appear serious while remaining calm and professional, but never personally offended. This is also not to suggest that if you appear happy, you’ll be a great teacher. BUT, all great teachers do have positive demeanors, so it’s a vital ingredient to success in the classroom.

Remember that your attitude determines the “weather” in your classroom each day, as your own enthusiasm (or lack of) becomes your students’. Positive attitudes are contagious, and so are negative ones. The first thing students should see every day as they enter your classroom is your smiling face. The last thing they should see as they leave your classroom every day is your smiling face.

Here are just a few benefits of smiling: It releases endorphins (natural pain killers) in the brain; it boosts the immune system; it helps to lift the spirits of the person on the receiving end of the smile; it sends a message that you care, and it sends a message that you are happy to see the person at whom you are smiling. And here are a few facts about students: Students want to be in the classrooms of positive teachers; students are in need of more positive role models; students’ attitudes in a classroom often mimic those of the teacher; students like to feel that their teachers care about them, and students who believe a teacher cares about them tend to work harder and behave better in the classroom of that teacher. There simply is no downside to smiling, and the benefits are immeasurable!

To Smile or Not to Smile

I am a brand new teacher who’s been told to hide my smile
And it’s clear that the teacher who told me that hasn’t smiled in quite a while
With lines so deeply etched in her brow, it seems that there’s no turning back now
Like her, I do not wish to be, so I’m trying to ignore her advice to me
And I notice that none of her students respond to her very kindly
They run out of her classroom each day when the bell rings screaming, “Finally!”
So smile I will and successful I’ll be. A happy teacher my students will see
For happy students behave, I’m told. And miserable teachers grow miserably old.

Annette Breaux

Response From Neila A. Connors

Neila A. Connors, Ph.D is the author of the book “If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students” and an upcoming partner book If You Don’t F.E.E.D. the Students They S.T.A.R.V.E. She is also an adjunct professor at Florida State University and a keynote speaker and presenter having worked in all 50 states, Canada, and Europe. She can be contacted at neilaconnors@comcast.net.

Oh my--where did the summer go? Is it already that time of year--AGAIN? The nerves, the anxiousness, and the same dream is back (that jolts you awake) where you are impatiently screaming through the halls of the school desperately trying to find your classroom to no avail. Everyone experiences a sensation of excitement along with apprehension during the first days; especially new teachers and students to a unknown setting. Yes, those trepidations and butterflies in the pit of your stomach that we try so hard to ignore return. Trust me, even the toughest of veteran teachers experience some unease but would never acknowledge it.

As we begin, my advice to start off with the right mindset and your best attitude is as follows. First and foremost PLEASE remember that you selected the most significant profession available and you DO make a difference every day. Thank you. Therefore, you must get up, dress up, show up and BE FIRED UP for your students. They need adults as advocates who exhibit care, compassion, and commitment crowned with passion, purpose, and patience.

Additionally, BALANCE between your life and career must also be a priority. It is easier said than done but a stipulation for stability. Meaning, take care of yourself. Remain fit and focused on what truly matters. Do not stress over that which cannot be controlled. As new changes, programs, and standards evolve; remain sane taking one day at a time. And realize your in-basket will never be empty. Set realistic personal and professional goals and recognize that you have the power to start your day over at any moment. And before you close your eyes at night reflect on three positive occurrences that transpired during your day. Certain students had a fabulous experience because of you.

And finally, have an “L” of a day--every day through living, learning, loving, and laughing. Live each day to the fullest recognizing the power of positive connections and communication. Learn as much as possible about your students so you can be their guide on a fulfilling and life-lasting journey. Love yourself, your life, and your profession--each day is a gift called the present. And never let a day go by without laughing. A day without laughter is a day lost plus you must release those energy-producing endorphins frequently.

Our reality is that students do not remember specifically what you teach them but they never forget how you treat them. The responsibility of teachers is to find the “gold” in every student and to make each student feel significant. Remember it is nice to be important but it is more important to be NICE. Have a fabulous year and don’t wait until the holidays to SMILE. A simple smile can warm a heart and change someone’s day.

Responses From Readers

Jennifer Krzystowczy suggests:

Never listen to, “watch out for this group!” advice! Make your own judgements.

Karen Greenhaus share a blog post containing her suggestions. They include:

1) Build in play time.

2) Start simple and scaffold learning.

3) Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know or to accept help from students.

4) Don’t give up. Perseverance really is a virtue.

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to this question and the ideas shared here.

Thanks to Annette, Neila and readers for offering their responses!

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a selection of seven published by published by Jossey-Bass.

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And,if you missed any of the highlights from the first year of this blog, you can check them out here.

Look for the next question-of-the-week on Friday!

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.