I often wonder if I should have been a journalism major because my life and teaching always come back to the basic journalistic questions. Who is your favorite character in the book? What is a big idea in this poem? Where can you find evidence for your ideas? Why is your evidence important? When does the runner’s high kick in? How can we be out of chips and salsa already?
In Georgia, we are finishing our second week of school. We start early here, but let’s face it – with the heat in August, we might as well be in school (unless the school air conditioner is not working but I digress). Now that I have caught my metaphorical breath, I have time to write about the first day of school and how I incorporated the journalistic questions to my first-day lesson. Many people end a project or year with reflection, but I think the beginning of the school year is a perfect time for reflection. Plus I like the element of surprise and the unexpected in the classroom, so sitting at a desk and going over the syllabus is not at the top of my go-to activities for day one (or any day). My AP students had a summer journal assignment, and I wanted to end that assignment with a first day of school entry. This assignment could also work as a stand alone lesson. Here’s what the first day looked like in my class, but this could work anytime near the beginning of the year:
Day 1: The bell rings, and I took attendance like we are supposed to do during the first 10 minutes of class (which I have not done since . . . .) Three guiding questions are written on the board, and I ask my students to make note of these (which means they take a picture of the board with their phone). I tell my students to head to the football field. They think I’m kidding, but since I am used to this look and know the secret of communicating with teens – endless repetition – I once again say “Go to the football field” then pick up my stuff (coffee) and head out of the door. In a Mr. Keating moment (in my mind at least), the kids gather their journals and walk across campus to the football field.
The football field speech goes something like this:
“During the last few years, this football field has been a part of your high school experience. You jogged around the track during freshman gym class. Some of you have played sports on this field while others marched on it during half time. Some have sung the national anthem before events on this field or presented colors while others took pictures or covered stories for the yearbook or newspaper. Many of you have spent Friday nights in the stands cheering on the Vikings. In 179 school days (we got the Thursday slot for graduation in the county this year), you will once again be at this field receiving a diploma making you a Northgate alumni which probably both excites and terrifies you. I want you to spend the next few minutes thinking about what you want these next 179 school days to look like. Use the guiding questions we discussed in class. You are now free to walk around, spread out, reflect, dream, and plan.”
Here are the reflection questions:
What do you want to accomplish this year?
This is a great starting question because it narrows the focus and time frame for students. Many students will want to graduate with honors, get accepted into a specific school, or take time to enjoy friends during their last year of high school.
Who do you want to be?
This is the most important question, but I don’t start with it because it’s too heavy to hit with right out of the gate. Students need some warm up time. I often frame this question by having students think about how they would want others to speak about them. Do they want to be known as kind? Compassionate? Passionate? Fun?
How will you get there?
This is the hardest question because it involves moving the idea to action. Students must create a plan of execution for their accomplishments and specifically detail how they will become the person they want to be.
I loved reading my student responses which included serious (make a 30 on the ACT) and fun (attend every home football game) thoughts. I like this activity for a couple of reasons. First, my students are doing real work on the first day and given the opportunity to reflect and take charge of their year. Second, students are caught off guard. My philosophy is the higher the predictability, the less of an impact. I want the first day to be memorable and impactful. Finally, students are learning a valuable life skill.
I would encourage you to use these questions for focus as a new school year begins. If you’re a teacher, these questions provide a chance for reflection at the beginning of the year or perhaps you can adapt this lesson for your classroom. If you’re a parent, use these questions to parent your child through another school year. Perhaps these questions can be used to start a conversation with children or students about goal setting and planning.
As usual, I participated in this activity with my students and answered these questions for myself. These questions and answers stay on my desk, so they are always in front of me. I also journal weekly to keep me on track. Speaking of journaling, I have a giveaway this week. My friend Brian Sztabnik of Talks with Teachers has created this beautiful journal for daily reflection, and I am giving away a copy to a reader. Everyone who leaves a comment on this post by Sunday, August 20th at 11:59 p.m. will be entered into a random drawing for the journal, but you can get your own journal https://www.thedailyteacher.co/ anytime. I would love to know how you build reflection time into your week.
Here’s to a great start to the school year for everyone. Be reflective, be intentional, and be present. Let’s make this the best year yet!