First Day Observations

On Wednesday, I found myself in a science class full of sixth grade boys. The students were sharing observations about the trajectories of two different balls which Mr. Dodd had just bounced off the table and the floor. “I think the table and the floor are made of different materials,” one child offered. “I noticed that you dropped them from different heights,” another chimed. The conversation unfolded, and one comment from it still lingers in my mind. One boy, to the surprise of both adults in the room, shared, “My observation is that you did this activity so that we would know that this is going to be a fun class – that as our teacher you want us to have fun.”

As I left the class, I thought about the role that observations play during the first days of school. The students observe us: Who are my teachers? What motivates them? What do they care about?  What can I expect from them this year? In the same way, we observe the students: How are they feeling? Have they found their place here yet? Is the relationship we have with them ready for learning–for challenge? All of this observation is exhausting – for all of us. The first days require intentional focus and a desire to be in the moment, to notice everything at once and to seize every opportunity.

And this energy is not wasted. On Thursday, a new sixth grader told me about his first day of school. “It was awesome,” he beamed, “I loved French, and orchestra with Mrs. Hennessy was amazing. I think it’s going to be a great year.” These types of observations have the power to establish how we will interact with one another–students and teachers–for weeks to come.

By necessity, the energy and first day with-it-ness we all channeled this week will wane as we settle into the rhythms of a new year, but each year these early hours together are a reminder of the foundation on which we build our practice as teachers. We begin by paying attention – really close attention – to our students. And they, in their own way, give that same attention to us. And what’s the result? We leave this short week with a sense of anticipation and eagerness for the new journey that awaits us.

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