Typhani Harris | August 2016

Back 2 School from The Teacher Locker Series

Welcome to the Teacher Locker Series where we are unlocking secrets and revealing the perfect combination of resources to have an effective and successful start to the new school year.  Inside the Teacher Locker Series, today is:

The Combination for a Strong Start to the Year!

The first few days of school sets the tone for the entire year.  Check out how to create a strong start, and get our first-week strategies pack below which includes procedures checklists, first week activities, and how to build a strong classroom community that will thrive throughout the year from us, the Teacher Locker Series!

Welcome Back!!!

Two words streaming through campus hallways across America.  With these words comes the anticipation of a new school year and the reality of the work that is ahead.  Teachers and students spend Sunday night in anticipation of this very day, we are excited, and scared, and anxious, and nervous.

As we embark upon a brand new school year, the number one most important advice I give to teachers, both new and returning, is if you first build a structure in your class then the teaching of content will be fulfilled.  Without solid relationships and clear procedures in class, you will find that the majority of the class period will be devoted to putting out fires instead of igniting the imagination.


When it comes to high school, the relationship between student and teacher is essential as these young adults need to like and trust you in order to be receptive to your instruction.  Don’t be afraid to take the first week to get to know each other.  Meet student at the door, learn their names, ask a question about their life, share stories.  A great first of the year activity is what I call My Shoes.  It opens the conversation without implying too much vulnerability.  Have students fill out the shoes and move all the desks to create a circle.  Spend as much time as it is needed for each student to share about themselves.

This relationship building will bring the class together, and more importantly, open the lines of communication while building trust between the teacher and the students.  I continue the first week with some icebreakers such as 4 corners, speed dating, and would you rather, to further get to know the students and build a classroom community.  When I feel the class community is building trust, I also introduce the Tree activity that helps students to open up a bit more, however, it does require some vulnerability so I wait to introduce this activity until the community has built a strong level of trust.  (All of these are included in our first-week strategies pack below.)


Another very important aspect to building a welcoming class environment is in the use of the space.  It is all too common for high school classrooms to be set up in rows facing the front.  The message we send with this set up is “I am the teacher, I am in control, and you are going to sit and watch me.”

This message often contradicts our mission of putting education in the hands of the students and helping students to take responsibility for their own education.  This environment immediately turns the teacher into preacher (see my article Preacher or Facilitator).  So, consider adjusting your space to a circle, square, horseshoe, debate style, or groupings.  This is a non-verbal way of saying “Welcome to OUR classroom.”


Procedures are imperative to a smooth running classroom according to the Teacher Locker Series.  Devote the first few days to explicitly discussing and practicing procedures.  Think about the following:

1.  How should students enter?
2.  How do we begin class?
3.  How does a student signal that they need to use the bathroom or get a drink of water?
4.  How do we move around the space for different activities?
5.  How do we prepare and experience a class discussion?
6.  How do we look at the end of the class to show we are ready to go?
7.  How are we dismissed?
8.  What happens if I am late?
9.  What happens if I am absent?
10. How do we turn in paperwork?

Words are powerful, but if we use them too much they become powerless.  The less we use our voice for procedural things (going to the bathroom, quieting the class, dealing with lateness) the more important and valued our voices are for important content information.  Design procedures for all of the above and create nonverbal ways to deal with these daily occurrences.  The first-week strategies pack includes a full list of procedures that will create a smooth running classroom environment.

Student Leadership

Building student leadership is essential to helping students take responsibility and ownership of their education.  Student leadership also provides an opportunity to build trust between you and your students. Although this takes very clear procedures, once student leaders start to run the class you are free to facilitate curiosity and inquiry.  Student leaders can do everything from setting up technology, hanging work, reading PowerPoint slides, writing on the board, handing out paperwork, etc.  Just about anything can be handed over to the students, and the leadership opportunities give students a purpose in the classroom community, beyond what they perceive as just sitting and listening.

A mentor once told me “don’t do for the students, that which they can do for themselves,” and if we keep that in mind, we can begin creating leadership within the classroom.  If we do it right, the hardest part of our job should be the planning because the classroom will run itself.  The first-week strategies pack includes how to create student leadership in the classroom.

This time of year is exciting and will set the tone for your entire classroom community!  Sign up below to receive our First Week Strategies Pack, it includes a sneak peek at Chapter 1 of Stop Teaching Now: Secrets to great teaching (set to be released next month) with procedures checklists and student leadership ideas, an Icebreakers cheat sheet, the My Shoes activity, and the Tree activity.

Have a great start to the year from the Teacher Locker Series!

Unlock the Locker

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Chief Academics Officer, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.