Years ago, before everything went digital, filling in my new Teacher Planner was always a highlight of my teaching year.  

Handwriting the names of each child in each new class into the empty pages was a labour-intensive processan oasis of enforced calm before the onslaught of the first day of term. Some of the children’s names would be familiar, either because I’d taught them before, or I’d heard stories about them, but, whether I knew them or not, the blank pages were visual reminders that a fresh start was available for each child whose name would be written there. 

For some children, though, the idea of a fresh start can seem out of reach. Once a child has acquired a reputation in school, it can be hard to leave that behind, even after a long summer break. They return to school ready to play the role they have become familiar with, perhaps over years of schooling. 

The blank page is not really blank if it is already metaphorically filled with expectations based on a child’s previous behaviour and attainment, or information gleaned from half-heard conversations in the staff room, or a vivid memory of that one child’s outburst in the dining hall or playground.  

While it is important that teachers are prepared with all the information they need about the children that will be in their new classes, it is impossible to truly know how all that theoretical and anecdotal knowledge will play out once a child is in the classroom with you. A list of attainment grades, or a written support plan does not equate to a rounded description of a child as an individual, or their personality, quirks, coping mechanisms and gifts. 

Every child who walks into the classroom at the start of the new year should have an opportunity to leave the failures, mistakes and disasters of the past at the door. At the start of the year, building relationships should be a significant focus. As Paul Dix puts it in ‘When the Adults Change, Everything Changes’ (2017), “some children follow rules, some follow people.” A child who has broken every rule in the book might go to the ends of the earth for a teacher who shows a genuine interest in them and approaches them with fairness, consistency and empathy. 

The beginning of the year, therefore, should not be an opportunity to outline a child’s previous failures and warn them what will happen if they don’t buck up their ideas, especially as Covid-19 has derailed education for so many. Instead, it is a chance for teachers to lay out clear, achievable, positive expectations, and detail the support that will be available to help every child to reach them as part of a year-long journey that teachers and students will take together 

A commitment to begin the year with an open mind, to adopt a position of unconditional positive regard towards each child, and to allow every student to start the new year unhindered by the baggage of last year could be the difference between some students continuing to cement their ‘reputation’, or leaving it behind and discovering a new version of themselves. Surely every child deserves that chance.