Safe spaces for new faces
A classroom can be a scary place. Walking into a new classroom, with a new teacher and a new group of peers can be daunting for even a confident individual. Equally, I always get butterflies before meeting a new group of students.
Preparing the space
Before the students arrive, think about the room layout. I generally prefer small islands of tables or a horseshoe layout for most of my lessons, but especially for the first lesson as these room layouts are more welcoming and communicate an ethos of openness.
Small but significant
The first thing is to learn their names. This may take more than the first lesson if it is a big group but keep going. It may seem like an obvious or even a small thing, but it speaks volumes to the students. It shows you are interested in them. I usually use pieces of folded card for them to write their names on and keep these for the first few lessons until I feel confident. Another strategy is to make a map of the room and add information alongside the names to help you identify individuals over the first few lessons. Importantly tell the students you are learning their names, because it shows you are taking an interest in them as individuals.
Secondly, introduce yourself. I usually talk about my professional career, how I got to where I am, and professional interests and pursuits. I also include a little bit about myself and my personal interests and pastimes when introducing myself to a new group. I believe this not only helps to establish your credibility as a teacher, their teacher, but also shows you are human.
Breaking the ice
The next key strategy I use is ice-breakers. I usually keep this going for at least a half-term as it helps to build the group dynamics, it helps you to learn more about the individuals within the group, and it helps to establish the ethos of working together right from the start. These activities give you the opportunity to find out more about your students; what their motivations are; what their aspirations are; their interests outside college; their previous learning; their expectations and any areas of uncertainty about the course right from the start. I also invite students to come up with an ice-breaker activity and lead it as the group starts to gel.
Setting the scene from the start
One of the most important things about meeting a new group of students is to set the scene right from the beginning, this helps to prevent issues like cliques forming, resistance from students to working in different groups with different students and also establishes the ethos of how you as the teacher will interact with your students in terms of being approachable, friendly and welcoming. This is how your relationship with the students will be perceived and it is vital to achieving a positive learning environment where everybody feels welcome, feels safe and feels respected as an individual.