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Starting A New School Year With Connection and Looking Forward

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English teacher Sarah Brown Wessling likes to start school off by asking students their wish for the year. (Teaching Channel)

The start of school is full of preparations, back-to-school shopping, and jitters for both teachers and students. The first day of school is important -- it's when first impressions are made and when teachers have an opportunity to start connecting with students without any preconceived notions about their academics or behavior.

At Johnston High School in Iowa, English teacher Sarah Brown Wessling only gets 10 minutes with her students on the first day. She knows she needs to make them count, so she has three objectives:

1. Connect with them
2. Start putting names to faces
3. Get them to start thinking forward

"When I am being really honest with students about why I love this work, it's really easy to cross this line into relying on too much emotion," Wessling says in a Teaching Channel video. "So I think it's really important to be genuine and to be honest, but not feel like you have to disclose everything in order for it to be effective."

She does want students to have a memorable experience in this first meeting. "My hope is that they leave with a feeling, and that feeling they can then start to connect to our space."


Wessling, the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, also likes to think about who her students will be before she even meets them. She writes a pledge to them, which she hands out early in the school year.

"I've had students who've gone through the class come back and tell me how much that note caught their attention, that they were supposed to open up this envelope and inside was this letter to them, " Wessling said.

How do you use the first crucial minutes with a new group of students?