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Steve Bollar Start Strong

Start Strong: Setting the Tone for a Successful School Year

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 The first day of school should feel like Christmas Eve! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

As educators, we understand the significance of a strong start to the school year. It sets the tone for the months ahead and lays the foundation for a positive and productive learning environment. Here are practical and free ideas for teachers and administrators to kick off the school year on the right foot for a successful first day of school. 

My good friend and SEL expert, Tina Dietrich, tells her students to leave the backpacks at home on the first day.  It happens every year. Many children bring everything on the first day of school, carrying every school supply and stuffing their new backpacks ready to bust a zipper. Some students have bookbags as big as they are, ready to topple over.  Stop the first-day jitters in their tracks, and leave the backpacks home for the first day. 

Remember the blog post on Social Emotional Learning (SEL)? The first few days are the most important steps in that process.

Gang, I am excited to share a few of my favorite first-day activities from my book, Ideas, Ideas, Ideas.


Who Doesn’t Love Being Greeted with Cheers?

This idea will completely confuse your students and make them smile.  As the students arrive at school for the first day, have all available staff make a line at the school entrance.  As the students enter the school, the staff applauds and cheers.  The students will be shocked!  They will also have a huge smile. What a great way for the students to experience the first day of school.  Not only will the students feel great, but so will the staff. The staff will feel even better than the students.   What educator doesn’t like encouraging and empowering students?  This idea is easy, free, and powerful. 

Bonus idea: Invite upper-level students to join your cheering squad! Have the older students show the inclusive and welcoming culture of your school. Dress up, make signs, roll out the red carpet! 

Sidewalk Chalk

Looking Down Gives You a Pick Me Up

This idea is simple. Use sidewalk chalk to welcome students and staff for the first day of school. On the walkway leading to the main entrance and other doors, write words of encouragement to welcome everyone to the start of school. The focus is to celebrate the start of the school year.  You can be as simple or as elaborate as you like.  A little bit of chalk goes a long way. 

If you are not excited about sitting on the ground and drawing in chalk, contact schools and community groups to do the work. 

  • Boy Scouts / Girl Scouts
  • Local Church
  • Honor Society
  • Student Council
  • Local Summer Camp
  • PTO / PTA

Be very specific about what you want to say.  Give a list of words are statements that would send the message that you want.  

  • Welcome Back!
  • School Theme
  • School Pride Statements
  • Mascot Image
  • Color Parking Spots
  • Arrows Pointing Towards The Door
  • Instructions for Students/Staff
  • Schedule of Events
  • Name of Staff 

Bonus idea: Consider the colors you want to use.  Would you like a rainbow of colors?  Should certain colors go in front of certain doors?  Should all the colors be the same? How can you incorporate your school colors, mascot, or theme for the year?

Locker Welcome Letter

Mission: Kindness

One year at my school, we had the theme “Anything’s Possible” based on the Mission Impossible movies. We had t-shirts and banners all over the school.  Prepping for this theme was exciting, as many fun events were prepared for the school year.  We needed to find a way to kick it off and surprise the students, so we printed small mission cards to place in each student's locker.  The mission cards had twenty-five different mission statements. Each card started with “Your mission if you choose to accept it is:”  The statements were things like: 

  • Get to know a cafeteria worker. 
  • Meet two new people. 
  • Shake your teacher’s hand every day for one week.  

When the students arrived at school for the first day, they were surprised with a special “Mission” in their locker.  The students were sharing to see what “Mission” they got.  Some students taped it on the door of their locker as a reminder.  

Ring the Bell

Ring in the New Year!

Think back to the ’30s, ’40s, and ‘50s. Remember when there were no computers, electronic bell schedules, or ID cards?  Back then, the students knew school would start by hearing the ringing of a handheld bell.  Remember the old fashion handheld school bell?  That bell was used to start school, start recess, end recess, and end school.  The bell had a distinct sound.  When you heard it, you knew what to do.

Go out and get a bell just like the one used “back in the day.”  Use the bell to start events at your school officially.  Specifically, use the bell on the first day of school.  Before opening the doors to allow all the students into the building, gather the staff in front of the school, say a few prepared words, then ring the bell.  True, some kids may look at you a little funny, but the parents and staff will smile affectionately.

Continue to use the bell to start events at your school.  Use the bell for an assembly, kick-off field day, or start the spelling bee.  Use the bell to signify the end of each marking period, the conclusion of state testing, the end of field day, and the end of the school year. After some time, everyone will expect to hear the bell before and after special events.  It will turn into a tradition at your school. 

Bonus idea: Paint the bell with your school colors, name, and mascot. 


Establish Classroom Expectations and Routines

What does your classroom respect and value?

Gang, you know how I feel about classroom management.  Create a collaborative classroom agreement with the students.  Involve students in creating a set of expectations and rules that promote respect, responsibility, and a positive learning environment. Brush up on my favorite classroom management strategies here.

Teach procedures.  Are there some school rules and expectations the kids should know by now? Yes. Do they always remember? No.  Do you have a certain way you do things in your classroom? Also, yes. 

Explicitly teach students how to navigate daily routines, such as transitioning between activities, getting materials, and using classroom tools. Practice and reinforce these procedures consistently.

Starting the school year strong sets the stage for a successful and fulfilling journey ahead. By implementing these practical and free ideas, teachers and administrators can create a positive and engaging learning environment from day one. Remember, the first day of school is just the beginning. The first six weeks are critical for establishing routines, building relationships, and setting expectations. Embrace the opportunity to foster a sense of belonging, ignite curiosity, and inspire your students to reach their full potential. Together, let's make this school year a memorable and transformative one!

Need some help training your staff for your first day? Need some more ideas? Already planning your next round of professional development? Looking for a keynote speaker for your next event? I’ve got your back. Let’s connect! 

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