I have to say that I hate it when people say this but it really is good advice….if you know what they are talking about. Start strong? What does that really mean?
In my experience this does not mean start with a body-builder’s physique. I am sure that does something for the intimidation of students but that is not a goal I generally support. This goes along with the idea that you should not smile until December. You should smile on day one – not smiling is not starting strong but starting scary. Student fear and parental trepidation do not make the classroom an inviting learning environment.
Starting strong means setting higher expectations and following strictly to rules and procedures in an effort to make these guidelines clear. With this heavier handed start a teacher can always back off an untenable position. If a teacher starts off “soft” or tentatively; instituting strict policies becomes more difficult. Students rebel when they perceive that they are losing power or control. Also increasing expectations often result in confusion whereas allowing more freedom from a highly structured environment comes with an expectation that previous strictures’ reinstatement remains possible and even probably depending on student performance.
In my classroom I “start strong” with a week dedicated to learning classroom procedures and how their choices and activities in my classroom relate to school principles and values. Sometimes the experience can have a mind-numbing effect.
“How many times will I show them how I expect hand-ins handled?”
“Do I really need to have them practice the ‘correct’ way to proceed from my room to the library?”
The short answer is yes. I do need to do these things. If I fail to emphasize these things in the beginning I get to spend the rest of the year explaining these procedures every time.
Later on in the year I can let go of the precise, “turn in your journals facing down as you exit the room with the spiral binding facing up,” to, “hand me you journals before you leave,” and expect students to easily revert to the previous method. This seems like a minor thing but in the course of a school year with all the transitions students need to make within the classroom – the little things add up!
So….start strong….but not like like the Hulk.