I have to admit, I've become a huge Dave Burgess fan after reading Teach Like a Pirate. Since students today are faced with more distractions than ever, it's important to do everything we can to make learning appealing.
We are about to start a new school year, and it's not uncommon for teachers to begin the year with reviewing class rules, checking out books, and setting expectations. These things are necessary, but they can also be boring. At worst, students are subjected to being 'talked at' far too much during the first days of school. But Burgess writes in TLAP how he approaches the first days of school. He strives to create an amazing atmosphere for his students.
Whereas the traditional thinking is to “not smile till Christmas,” Burgess is seeking to WOW his students from day one. He is still aiming to set clear expectations that will set the tone for the school year, but the tone he is setting is one of incredible engagement and interest in his class.
He notes that he shares his plan for the first days so that his readers can evaluate which if any of the ideas will work for them. He writes, “No content standard matters to me until I have established a safe, supportive, and positive classroom environment I need to successfully teach my students. Any time I spend on the front end of the year to establish this environment is not time wasted. In fact, I know it will pay dividends a hundred times over before the end of the year.”
Burgess posts a sign outside his class, “You’ve heard the stories…are you ready for the experience?!!” He is building a sense of anticipation from the beginning.
He plays music as students enter. On every desk is a can of Play-Doh and on the board in giant letters, “Do NOT open the Play-Doh!” Burgess explains, “It is far more important to create a unique experience for them on the first day than it is to be sure they know how many bathroom passes they will have each semester and when it is okay to use the pencil sharpener.”
Burgess then goes through a dramatic routine where he tells the class “Good morning” and asks them to respond in kind. He even uses strange accents and such and expects the students to do the same.
He tells them his class will different than any class they’ve ever attended, and he expects them to get involved with creating the outrageously fun and entertaining experience.
He gives them one main rule: This is a NO-MEANNESS ZONE. If he can’t create a completely safe environment students will not be open to taking risks in the learning experiences that he provides.
Burgess then asks the students to use the Play-Doh to create something that represents themselves. He then engages each student in playful banter about their creation and how it represents them with the goal that everyone leaves feeling successful. Another goal is to learn each student’s name as quickly as possible.
At the end of the class period he says something like, “You don’t want to miss tomorrow. Something wild and crazy is going to happen at the beginning of class. You can either be here and see it, or just hear the stories about it when you come back.”
I bet that makes them curious enough to want to come back the next day!