Welcome Forward! Creating an Engaging First Day of School

Bobbie FrenchBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Lead Better, Teach Happier


  • Plan your first day of school so that students (and staff) are excited for day two.
  • Increase engagement and excitement on the first day of school with chalk the walk, photo ops, pep rallies, and music & competition.

Although some of you may have already returned to school, we’re gearing up for the 2021-2022 school year on the East Coast.  We need to create a welcoming environment where all students feel they belong.  Many students may be returning to school nervous and anxious after the past year.   Now is the perfect time to rethink the first day of school! 

How are you engaging your school community from that very first day? If you haven’t already reimagined your first day of school to create an exciting and engaging event,  what are you waiting for?  Our students and staff are coming back to a NEW school year after surviving an unprecedented year of school.   It’s up to us to make it one they will remember. 

{Better yet, take it from my friend, Frank Rudnesky, and welcome your staff and students “forward,” not back (we’re not going that way!!!). Or you can even celebrate the ‘New’ School Year and ring it in like you would a new calendar year!}

This is the perfect year to find a new and engaging way to create a sense of community on that first day or save these ideas to use following a school break.  We want our school community to feel like they BELONG from that first moment.  

No matter what ideas you come up with to engage your school community on the first day of school, remember it’s all about creating excitement for school so that students (& staff) are banging on the doors to get in on day two! Click To Tweet

Lead Like a Pirate

After reading “Lead Like A Pirate” by Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess, I started to rethink my first day of school.  I asked myself why I hadn’t thought to do this before. I think it’s because it has never been modeled for me. My first day of school experiences had always been the same as a student, teacher, and principal. Students and staff arrived excited for the first day of school, but once they entered the school building and said hello to friends they hadn’t seen over the summer, it was almost business as usual.  It IS time to change that and engage our school community from day #1.

Create an Engaging First Day with Chalk the Walk

You can start rethinking your first day of school by preparing the night before. If you have not yet done “Chalk the Walk,” I encourage you to try this to show your students how excited you are to see them on that first day.

You can have staff chalk the walk or you can even leave chalk outside and send an invitation to your parents and community members to come the night before to leave their inspirational messages for students. There’s nothing like seeing students’ eyes light up when they arrive to this warm welcome on their first day.

My goal for the first day of school is to get students so excited they want to come back for day two (and beyond). 

Create an Engaging First Day with Photo Ops

Let’s start with photo opportunities. We know parents love to take photos of their students on the first day of school. Now imagine how excited they will be to take their child’s first-day photo on the NEW first day of school after a long year and a half of surviving and learning through a pandemic. I create a simple photo backdrop (think party store tablecloths) and “First Day of ____” signs that kids can hold. (You can make your own or check out Teachers Pay Teachers for lots of premade options).

This provides parents the opportunity to take pictures of this momentous occasion and get excited for the new school year. This is also a great opportunity to do some branding for your school and includes school colors, slogans, or mascots in your photo setup.

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Create an Engaging First Day with a Pep Rally

Did someone say PEP RALLY? The first day of school is not complete without a pep rally. We do pep rallies to create excitement for sporting events  and we want this same excitement to welcome our students and staff back on the first day. 

Depending on your school or your school size, what you do for your pep rally can vary. Let your imagination and creativity run wild! Some of the ideas we’ve used for our pep rally include:

  • Having teacher teams create banners they run and bust through as they are being introduced to the student body.
  • Having teacher teams dress in a theme they came up with.  We’ve had cowboys, emojis, sunshine, storybook characters, and more.
  • We’ve introduced staff and they came down the aisle high-fiving students along the way!
  • Teams choose their own ‘walk up’ song to be played during their introductions.
  • We’ve had staff compete in cup challenges. You know those cup challenges you’ve seen on social media at family parties!  Our students have a great time cheering on their favorite teachers as they go head-to-head in a little friendly competition.
  • Music and more music!! 
  • Dancing!! We had our students circle up and do the Chicken Dance, YMCA, and the Macarena. We even had our 8th graders come to the center and lead the whole school in a dance.
  • One year we had a large rock-paper-scissors competition! You could even do this competition with staff, having the whole student body cheering them on.

Create an Engaging First Day with Music & Competition

Nothing creates excitement like music and a little competition.  No matter what ideas you come up with to engage your school community on the first day of school, remember it’s all about creating excitement for school so that students (& staff) are banging on the doors to get in on day two!

About Bobbie French

Bobbie French is an educational leader, presenter and writer from Massachusetts.

Bobbie has been an educator for over 24 years. She has been an elementary guidance counselor, classroom teacher, special education coordinator, Title I Director, Preschool Director and Administrator.

Bobbie is passionate about focusing on the whole child and creating an environment where all students have a sense of belonging. She appreciates and recognizes the hard work of teachers, and is committed to supporting others to be their best for kids every day. Her passion and enthusiasm for creating a positive and engaging school culture is contagious.

Bobbie is also an avid photographer and loves to tell her school’s story.