I blog on Brain-Based Learning, Metacognition, EdTech, and Social-Emotional Learning. I am the author of the Crush School Series of Books, which help students understand how their brains process information and learn. I also wrote The Power of Three: How to Simplify Your Life to Amplify Your Personal and Professional Success, but be warned that it's meant for adults who want to thrive and are comfortable with four letter words.

Back 2 School: No Drinking From The Fire Hose Please!

No drinking from the fire hose


I'm in the Midwest and it's always a shock to learn that peeps in the South are already back to the grind or heading back to school/work really soon. But then I realize I have about 3 weeks left till I'm in the thick of things as well. One side of me wants to keep the summer mode going. The other is starting to freak out about the beginning of the school year and is pushing me to start getting mentally ready.

I've decided to honor each; I will continue my summer activities: writing and getting a podcast off the ground, but I will direct my writing to emphasize Back 2 School. The idea is to get myself pumped up and ready for the new year. For me, reflecting through writing is the best way to do it. Follow along and comment on what you do. We'll learn more that way. We'll learn together.

Back 2 School. It's real. Time to get with it!

No Drinking From The Fire Hose Please!

This one's real simple: Chill.

High school, and perhaps other teachers, have this real goofy tendency to overwhelm and freak out their students week 1. We hand each a big ass fire hose, shout open wide!, and crank the valve all the way open. I've seen this for more than a decade, but was somehow blind to it and did the very thing I am advocating against here for a long time. Instead of allowing for a smooth summer to the grind transition and getting to know my students, I over-informed, overloaded, and stressed (at least some, but probably many) out. And then, I had my light bulb moment.

Last year, I spent the entire first week back getting to know my students. I did zero instruction. I was open with my building colleagues about it. This new approach was met with the no comment type of silence as it is somewhat in opposition to our department/building culture. It's all good. I'll bug them and even more people to follow suit this year. Why not? I'll email our principal and ask if it'd be okay to promote this approach to the entire staff. You could do this in your school...

But... What do we do instead of the syllabus, the discipline talk, and the first week subject curriculum? Well... What kind of a friend and a teacher would I be if I send you into the wild without weapons? Weapons of mass creation that is.

Use Ice Breakers That Don't Suck

Let's face it. Most ice breakers suck, because they are cheesy or make people uncomfortable. Few students like taking social risks during week 1. Here's a novel idea: Let's not make them! Here's a great post by Jennifer Gonzales of the Cult of Pedagogy describing in detail Icebreakers that Rock.

Blobs and Lines and asking my students to gather in groups of how many languages they speak is one of my favorites. It's a safe way for students to share their culture and allows all of us to learn something about our multiculturalism. You can do one ice breaker each day of week 1 and sporadically throughout the year (just call them games then).

Who Am I Project

You can talk about yourself, or you can show your students what you're about. I used the visual below last year and then I had my students use Piktochart or another tool to make a poster about themselves. Not only will they learn a useful digital presentation tool, but they will be well on their way to becoming a valued member of your classroom community.

who am I project for drinking from fire hose post

Check out this post from last August for more details on how to lead and share Who Am I project.

Mingle : Walk and Talk

It is an accepted part of my classroom culture to learn on our feet whenever possible. As students work on their Who Am I's, I walk around and chat them up. If this is completely new to you, my advice is to be yourself and just ask questions about their summer, their Nirvana or sports team T- shirt, the swag kicks they're wearing etc. Tell them about your wife and kids, your background, and what you like. Food is always a good conversation starter.

I live in the space with my students throughout the year. I got rid of the teacher desk, which allowed me to be more deliberate about doing that. This year, I will just sit at one of the tables students sit at. I will pick a different seat every day. Challenge yourself to be among your students 100% of the time you're with them, and I promise you that even if you click with students right away, your relationship with them will be even greater.

I realize that not everyone teaches in a cafe style flexible seating (Starbucks) classroom, but I (and a whole bunch of research) strongly recommend allowing your students to stand up and walk while in your classroom. The best way is to design lessons to allow for movement. Here's how I use station rotation to allow increased blood flow to the brain.


I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want to enjoy being back and being with my students the first, the second, the thirty eighth, and all the weeks in between. And, I want to have a great start to the school year. It means easing into it and really getting to know my students. I hope you want the same for your classroom. Let's avoid stressing our students and ourselves out.

No Drinking From The Fire Hose Please...

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