Mastering First Impressions A Teacher’s Guide to Starting the School Year Strong

Whether it’s your first day of teaching or you are a teacher who has been teaching for years, the first day of school is your opportunity to make a positive, impactful, and encouraging first impression on your new students.

This is your chance to introduce yourself to the children, show your teaching methods, set the tone of your classroom for the year, and create a sense of excitement in your class. You are keen to make it a positive experience for everyone involved; however, as a new teacher, new to a school or class, naturally, preparing for the first day of class makes you nervous.

Whilst most teachers find this initial stage exciting, others will find it daunting. With no prior knowledge of what to expect, being nervous about making the right first impression on your pupils is normal! Each step is a learning process, and first impressions will be something you will eventually master as you grow with confidence.

Why are first impressions important as a teacher?

First impressions hold significant weight for teachers as they set the tone for the entire learning journey for students in school. A teacher’s initial moments with their students establish a foundation of trust, respect, and enthusiasm that can greatly influence the classroom dynamic. A positive first impression demonstrates professionalism, approachability, and genuine interest in fostering a supportive learning environment.

Students often form quick judgments about their teacher based on these early interactions, shaping their perceptions of the teacher’s expertise and the subject matter. A well-crafted first impression is a skill that not only captivates the children’s attention but also establishes a strong rapport that encourages active participation, open communication, and a willingness to engage with the learning material. Therefore, as a teacher, cultivating a positive initial encounter is essential for cultivating a conducive atmosphere that promotes effective learning and growth.

How Do You Make a Good First Impression as a Teacher?

There are 7 key points you need to remember when making a good first impression, or you can remember the mnemonic R.E.S.P.E.C.T. 

1. Rapport

The definition of rapport in the Oxford Dictionary is the ability to build a “close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.” Your goal as a teacher is to ensure that you set your first teaching day off to a good start for everyone.

Welcome every one of your students individually as they enter the classroom and then introduce yourself to the whole class once everyone is settled. Share with each child in the group a little bit about yourself, what they should call you, and write on the board, so they learn quickly how to spell your name.

Above all, stay positive and maintain a sense of excitement for what you have planned for the pupils and the year ahead. Your students will sense if you feel nervous, so try to relax however they will also be anxious too, so let your personality shine, be genuine and show your students how excited you are to be there.

Invite the students to share information about themselves, you could do this as a group however it’s often easier to invite them to work in pairs or groups, allowing time for them to develop, settle and connect. Games and icebreakers are always great fun, getting your students up and moving around the room helps create fun and energy in your classroom. There are some great activities available such as Innovative Teaching Ideas for your first class.

2. Expectations

Establish a routine and structure for your students so they know what to expect. Make sure to spend time arranging the seating in the room in groups. This will help the children feel more prepared for various situations. Create empowerment and ownership by inviting the pupils to set their own rules in the classroom, within your boundaries, obviously. By creating the expectations together your students are more likely to buy into them if their voice is heard. Pick volunteers to write on the board, the class list of expectations or “norms” and these can be displayed throughout the year as a reminder.

Similar to expectations and instruction, a key part of ensuring your class runs smoothly is setting transitions, and how they should work when you refer to different activities such as independent work, pair or partner work, or group work. Encourage the students to practice what these all mean, as funny as it sounds, this a great opportunity to get them up and moving around.

Plans for lessons need to be made and classroom management is key to ensuring you can conduct your class throughout the year for each one of your pupils’ longer-term success.

3. Smile

As simple as it sounds, please smile! Facial expressions are powerful tools when teaching; beginning the new academic year with a smile will make all the difference. Your students are likely to be as nervous as you on their first day of a new year and teacher. Greet them with a smile and help relieve some of their fears. Children need teachers who they can approach. If they need support, showing you are someone they can come to will make learning a more enjoyable experience for them.

You may feel anxious on the inside, however, make sure you’re smiling on the outside. It helps your students feel more welcome and surprisingly will make you feel more comfortable and at ease with your children. In fact, smiling may even help create a positive image and encourage others to smile in return. No clowning or juggling acts are required, however genuine smiles project confidence and warmth. Celebrate students if they are confident enough to speak up and share in the new group. Show empathy if you need to draw out a contribution from a quieter individual within the class. Smiling creates a warm environment and learning should be fun so try to give off positive vibes—if you smile, your students will be smiling too!

4. Presentation

Presentation is everything and that includes what you’re wearing. Pick an appropriate outfit for your school’s dress code, respectful to the local cultural setting and suitable for your classroom. You should be comfortable, as you will be on your feet most of the day.

What you wear should also reflect who you are. Formal attire can give the impression that you are confident however overly formal dress can make you appear unapproachable. If you are teaching younger students, a tailored suit may not be appropriate. Try to find something less formal, this sends a message to your pupils that you are approachable, relaxed, and ready to teach.

Finally, if you do decide to wear something new, wear it around the house for a day so that you feel comfortable on your first day. Many teachers have a set wardrobe for what they wear to school, however, it is always best to check the school’s dress code just in case.

5. Enviroment

Besides greeting your students personally, you should also be welcoming your children into a learning environment that is warm, friendly, shows your personality, invites creativity from pupils, and encourages exploration and learning. This can be achieved through displays, wall posters, decorations, notices and information on the topics and skills you will be teaching.

In recent years research has shown that colour can help students improve their learning experience. Cognitive science explains that having a warm and bright colour scheme creates a fun and energising area for children to learn, particularly at primary school level. You can decorate boards with bright colours, flowers made from their handprints, large letters, numbers or key national curriculum messages and themes.

If you are teaching older students, an introduction board about the content they will be learning in lessons is useful. You could also encourage the class to create a noticeboard as part of their icebreaker or as an activity linked to motivational quotes, images and academic goals (in line with the national curriculum). Treat your classroom space as a resource which you and your pupils can use as part of your teaching activities and their education.

Start the school year off on the right foot by making your classroom a place where each student feels excited to enter!

6. Connection

Similar to rapport, establish a personal connection with your students. Icebreakers are not only useful strategies for building rapport, but they also provide you with a fantastic opportunity to assess your pupils’ strengths and weaknesses in greater depth.

Students’ contributions to lessons are a way of identifying connections to themselves individually,. Listening carefully as they share this knowledge will help you identify key elements about their backgrounds. Make a mental note to remember them, and next, if you recall these facts on an individual basis, it will help cement their contribution, particularly if they feel listened to and remembered.

Although you are their teacher, you want students to be aware that you as teachers are also human. Tell your pupils a little bit about your life and what sort of things you like. By giving them a little information about yourself, your students will be more likely to open up to you. Create a visual of what you like and don’t like, a little about your background, your favourite music or food and why you want to teach. You could encourage your pupils to do the same through a Think, Pair, Share activity, which is a collaborative learning strategy.

Learning names is key and something you should work hard at to match the right name with the right learner from the very first day. Being able to address learners by name is not only impressive, but it also creates a sense of respect between teacher and learner. Meet them on their level, if you are working in an international school, you may have a diverse background of cultures. and A wonderful sense of belonging can be achieved through small groups and individual learners sharing phrases and quotes from their language. Again, these could be showcased on your classroom walls to celebrate the diversity of your class.

7. Teaser or "to be continued" activity

As you bring your first lesson to an end, make sure you end with an activity or a teaser which will make the next lesson one they don’t want to miss. You can try starting them with an activity that will reach its conclusion next time, or you will pick it up in the next class. Gain their enthusiasm for the year ahead, by sharing the structure and plans for their learning. Build excitement and anticipation of the curriculum by including them in some of the structure planning for the year, particularly if they are older learners, and provide them with choices of what to focus on first. Again, this provides empowerment of their learning.

Invite your learners to help you set goals for the year and then to set individual lesson and assessment goals for each pupil, make sure to reflect on these frequently. This will provide them with a sense of achievement, progress, and a journey throughout the academic year. Finally, this is also your opportunity to set the tone for yourself, your learners, and the material. What happens on the first day should be a genuine reflection of what learners can expect throughout the year. Ultimately, don’t be too hard on yourself on your first day, relax, get to know your learners, build rapport with your learners and enjoy.

Understanding why first impressions matter particularly for student learning is crucial in order to becoming effective teachers and for progression in your professional development. Mastery of the practical strategies and teaching practices outlined above, coupled with deliberate practice, will propel your teaching career as you engage with a diverse range of students. Being yourself is one of the most powerful tools you have as teachers!

If you need extra support, conduct your own research, there are many online platforms that are available to teachers and schools tailored to individual needs to help you and your colleagues to develop your skills and understanding further. Here you can learn at your own pace with greater depth and understanding about how you can best achieve a great working relationship with students of all ages.

Plus, talk to your fellow teachers for additional support in school, with the various levels of experience they should be able to provide you with new knowledge and strategies on how you can develop and achieve a good repertoire with your class.

Good Luck!

Extra support and resources

Written by Georgie McIntyre, Managing Director of Connex Academy & Director of Learning and Development

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