In my Montessori elementary classroom, I spend the first week of school building on the foundations that I set on the first day — further establishing rules and routines, empowering the students, developing relationships, and presenting inspiring work.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I begin talking with the students about classroom routines and expectations on the very first day of school. Throughout the week, we build on these discussions, usually during circle time. Like all Montessori teachers, I have high expectations of courtesy, respect, and order. Taking time during the first week to fully establish these expectations helps the students understand what is required of them and of others in the classroom. It serves us all well for the remainder of the year.
Montessori Teachers Lay the Foundations for a Successful Elementary School Year in the First Week
A great interactive strategy for discussing expectations is to invite the students to role-play different scenarios. For example, I may invite a returning student to role-play three situations and encourage the other students to determine which is the most courteous:
Empowering the students to be responsible for their space means that they are also involved in keeping the classroom tidy. During the first week, I introduce the students to our classroom chore wheel. Each student receives a task listed on the wheel that he/she is responsible for during that week. The following week, we move the wheel and the students are given new tasks. For example, one student may be responsible for sweeping the floors, while another may be in charge of straightening the books in our classroom library. The students carry out their tasks at the end of each day, taking ten minutes or so to make sure their classroom is clean and tidy. Returning students carefully model how the tasks are done for the new students. Throughout the year, I observe how the chores are being carried out and when necessary, we review the steps involved in careful cleaning.
Another important focus of the first week is helping students make connections with me and with their peers. I make a point of having a meaningful conversation with each of the students within the first days of school. This helps us set the foundation for a trusting and caring relationship. I also look for opportunities for the students to build and strengthen their friendships. For instance, I may ask an outgoing returning student to show a new student how to complete a classroom task, or I may encourage a new student to ask a returning student to help him if he is looking for something in the class.
One of the most exciting things that happens during the first week of school is the introduction of the First Great Lesson. The Five Great Lessons are impressionistic stories that present Montessori elementary students with a “big picture” of the world and life. The lessons introduce students to the universe and humankind’s place in it, inspiring them to learn more about their world. The First Lesson centers on the Beginning of the Universe and Earth. This is a highly anticipated presentation for the returning students, who are familiar with the Five Great Lessons; they help create excitement and a sense of expectation leading up to the presentation.
The Five Great Lessons always generate such wonderful questions and provide the students with a jumping off point for further exploration throughout the year. This is a great opportunity to discover where the students’ interests lie and what they may wish to learn about next.
Overall, the first week is an enjoyable time of establishing relationships as well as creating a positive and trusting atmosphere with expectations of courtesy and care. It truly sets the tone and builds the foundation for the year. I always say: Begin as you mean to go on.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, September 29, 2015.