My Number One Goal On The First Day Of School

Smart Classroom Management: My Number One Goal On The First Day Of SchoolI’m often asked about the first day of school, so I’ve written many articles on the topic.

Most are about establishing routines and implementing an effective classroom management plan—which are important, to be sure.

But they’re not my number one goal on the first day of school.

They shouldn’t be yours either.

Several years ago, in an interview with Jennifer Gonzalez of The Cult of Pedagogy, I mentioned my chief goal and it surprised some people.

It is this:

My number one goal on the first day of school is that my students love being in my class.

The reason, simply put, is that it makes anything and everything to do with effective teaching and classroom management easier.

You see, when you take a captive audience of students, nervous and keen on turning over a new leaf, and make them both relieved and excited to be in your class, then you have powerful, game-changing leverage from the get-go.

You kick-start their intrinsic motivation to listen and learn.

You trigger the Law of Reciprocity, which causes them to want to repay you for creating a classroom they’re happy to be part of.

More importantly, it’s the single most effective thing you can do to make your rules and consequences matter to them.

Furthermore, every student in your class will share with their parents how excited they are to have you as their teacher, which instantly puts families on your side, in your corner, and supporting you.

So how do you do it? How do you create a first-day experience that causes your students to love being in your class?

The truth is, it isn’t so difficult. In fact, it’s quite simple:


Be nice.

Be honest.

Be open.

Be clear.

Be authentic.

Embrace the joy of teaching—the passion, the excitement, the stunningly satisfying relationships with students. Lay out every expectation and responsibility that entails being part of your class in a transparent, highly detailed way.

Emphasize that your classroom management plan is for them, not you, and it’s sole purpose is to protect their right to learn and enjoy school without being bothered, bullied, or interrupted.

Then make a promise to follow it to the letter.

Teach at least one routine—like entering the classroom or lining up for lunch—with the same energy and commitment you would the xy-graph, the scientific method, or the very fundamentals of grammar.

In other words, teach the heck out of it.

Make your first lessons of the school year dynamic and participatory. Use humor, clarity, and purpose and then shift responsibility for proving they understand over to them.

Let them experience success right off the bat, and let them know it. Provide feedback through your direct and worthy praise.

Show them that learning in your classroom will always be center stage.

Children as young as five recognize great teaching when they see it, and they’re changed by it. Their appreciation of you and of how fortunate they are to be in your class will not go unnoticed or unreturned.

From this first impression on, they’ll want to listen, behave, and please you.

Giving a preview, a microcosm of what it’s like to be in your class, on the first day of school will give you an immediate shock of influence, respect, and rapport that takes even the most experienced teachers weeks to achieve.

It puts you on a path far ahead of the rest.

Hiking boldly toward the most rewarding and memorable school year your students will ever have.

PS – A lot of what we do at SCM is mentioned in this article, from installing a classroom management plan to building influential rapport to teaching compelling lessons. If you’re a new reader, check out our archive at right or, for a deeper dive, one or more of our books or guides.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving new-article updates in your email box every week.

32 thoughts on “My Number One Goal On The First Day Of School”

  1. I love reading your articles and blog posts. I have been using them to help me in the classroom for a number of years now. However, I transitioned over to PE two years ago. I purchased your book about classroom management for PE, music, and art and it has helped me tremendously. I would love to see more articles dedicated to the gym if that is possible. I understand that the majority of your followers are classroom teachers, but perhaps a section on specials classes might be helpful. Thanks!

    • I would also appreciate something about ‘specials’ teachers. I teach half hour yoga sessions at a primary (elementary) school.

      • Hi Martha,

        Please check out the orange book in the sidebar. It was written specifically for specials teachers.

  2. I’m an all in believer. I read every article and keep them on my phone so I can get another dose of SCM whenever I need it. Thank you for transforming my teaching career from random success to confident expectation of having a great year with my class.

  3. Thank you for having our backs! Your articles are very helpful but they’re mainly for classroom teachers. I am a language teacher and I travel from class to class, which makes it even harder to really keep up with my management plans. Is there a way you can address these issues in an article? What do you recommand?

    • Hi Marie,

      Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers was written for all specials in mind. I think you’ll find it helpful.

      • Kirsten M–

        Michael’s book, “The classroom management way,” is essentially a compilation of many of his best articles.

        It’s not expensive and that way you can have his articles on hand either in hard copy or, like me, on my Kindle for iPhone app, without violating his copyright. 🙂

  4. Always so on point!!! I cannot stop singing your praises. Also need to keep reading. Always relevant. Thx

  5. Thank you for all this great information. I’m sooo grateful. 🙂

    I’m actually a little bit afraid of smiling too soon…. because of who I am. I’m a nice very nice person and very non-threatening. Teachers who don’t smile much or too soon generally have a well-behaved class.

    I’m very friendly but also kids love to take advantage of me and I do the best I can but sometimes lose what feels like the upper hand. I think if someone were a man or has an ability to intimidate them smiling is a good thing. But me… being who I am…. think it might be dangerous. Try to convince me otherwise ? -Julie 🙂

    • Hi Julie,

      I’ve written many, many articles covering this topic. When you get a chance, check out the archive at right.

    • Hi, Julie!

      I definitely agree with your statement that teachers who don’t smile generally have a well-behaved class. I’ve been told “Don’t smile until December.” The more strict you seem, the more likely the class will follow your procedures.

      Having said all this, I do smile in my classroom and thank G-d have control of the classroom. I think the key is- when to smile. During my lessons, I am animated, honest, humorous and of course I smile! (Sounds like Michal’s list, doesn’t it? 🙂 My lessons are enjoyable and the class is eager to participate. However, when I give over my procedures and expectations, boy, do I tighten up! Not in tense or severe way, of course. But I explain, in a serious manner, the responsibilty my students carry as members of a class and how the procedures are for their benefit. I speak to them frankly and firmly, and the seriousness of the matter makes them want to prove themselves 10 times over.

      Hope I answered your question. Here’s hoping you have a succesful year! Good luck!

  6. Hi Michael,
    This is very timely! It’s never too soon to start thinking about the first day of school–I’m really excited! We have so much “administrative business” to take care of during the first week of high school–orienting the new freshmen, learning the fire drill, the lock down drill, the hold in place drill, who has what lunch, where the classrooms and restrooms are–not to mention the lockers–that the whole idea of ensuring students will love my class and will get a great taste of what it’s going to be like can get lost in the shuffle! There are assemblies and club meetings and forms, oh my! And all that plus introducing the classroom management plan AND giving a great first day lesson is a full agenda! However, I’m committed to doing a great first day lesson, even if it’s only 8-10 minutes. History is the most exciting subject in the world, and I want my students to catch that excitement on day one! Thanks for the inspiration, as always!

  7. Agree, one hundred percent. However, some teachers do not have the ability to do all this and keep control of their class. They might be new. They might be too sweet. So along with all your advice (which is excellent and true), teaching procedures is mandatory and just as important as smiling and being nice. Nice guys finish last. If you implement an effective management program and smile, be nice, open… while you are doing it, that is much better advice imho.

  8. Really useful, convincing and superb ideas for managing the classroom which is the most difficult part of teaching.

  9. Years ago, I went to a math conference and attended a session, I think for calculus teachers, that was called something like, “Helping your students have a C-A-T on the first day of school.” The instructor had attended another conference and ended up in a session by a first-grade teacher (not normal calculus stuff) who taught her first graders on the first day that C-A-T was the home pet – cat. The first graders went home telling parents, “We learned how to read today!” The calculus teacher decided to develop a first day plan to help students go home and say, “We learned how to do calculus today!” It’s a lot better than, “We had to read the syllabus/handbook/rule sheet in 8 classes today. Ugh.”

  10. Thank you for the great article to prepare for the upcoming school year! I was wondering when you recommend to start enforcing consequences? Surely not the first or second day of school, when students are still learning the classroom management plan, but how early do you recommend?

    • Early Nick. As soon as your students prove they understand, which can vary depending on you and your grade level.

  11. Michael, I have been reading your posts over the last few months and I’m so happy I found you. You are impacting the efficiency of my teaching in big ways, so for that, I thank you. I was especially relieved to read this post today because I can finally say I’m doing something right! I needed the validation that my gut feeling has been right all along. Thank you for making my day. I just might end up trusting myself more often. Cheers to you! (Pouring through your books, too!)
    P.S. Any pointers on smoothly changing grade levels? (5th to 3rd)

    • It’s my pleasure, Michelle! My only recommendation is to model more explicitly—and enjoy yourself. 🙂

  12. Thanks for the great content Michael! I teach an after school club in an elementary school that meets once a week through the school year and am excited to implement many of your suggestions this fall.
    One burning question…How does the classroom management plan work with other volunteers or teaching assistants in the classroom? For example, do you recommend training the volunteers to also issue the warning or consequence and how do you keep track of everything or is it better to just have the lead teacher being the one to enforce?

    • Hi Kelly,

      If it’s in a single classroom, then I recommend one person be focused on supervision and enforcing consequences.

  13. Last summer I read your first day of school tips, and it was the best teaching year I’ve had! Looking forward to an even better year! Thank you for this service! It’s changing lives!

  14. I also love reading your articles and tips. Is there any way you might provide them in a PDF format so we can easily print them out to keep in a binder? I enjoy re-reading them before school starts and this would be an easy way to do this!

    • Hi Kirsten,

      We don’t have any plans to do so. However, you may want to check out the latest book.

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