9_1603.m00.i121.n057.F.c06.254825224 _gtp_ Five senses line icon

by Marcus Jackson Posted on July 31, 2018

The month of August signifies that we’re back in school in some parts of the country with the rest of the country beginning in September. That means every school in the country will be prepping for one of the most exciting days of the year “The First Day of School.” Administrators, teachers, staff members, parents, and students are filled with energy excitement and enthusiasm.

As I think about the first day of school, I’m reminded just how important it is as it sets the tone and can literally make or break a child. Therefore, it’s important that every administrators be cognizant of every single detail as it relates to the school and what happens that day. These details include: 1) smell of the school; 2) scenery & cleanliness; 3) greetings, morning announcements, and school wide meetings; 4) feelings and connectedness; and 5) what’s served for breakfast, lunch, and what type of snacks will be offered.

Our senses instruct the ways we understand and perceive the world around us as humans are known as senses. We have five traditional senses known as taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight. The stimuli from each sensing organ in the body is relayed to different parts of the brain. During the first day of school and throughout the school year these senses will play a critical role in ensuring there’s a positive learning environment.


Taste, also known as gustation, is the ability to detect chemicals in food, minerals and dangerous substances such as poisons. This detection is performed by sensory organs on the tongue called taste buds. For many of our students breakfast and lunch is the highlight of their day as it’s the only time they’ll receive a well-balanced meal. I once asked 30 (4th and 5th graders) boys in my mentoring group what was their favorite part of the school day? Twenty five of the boys stated breakfast, lunch, and snack time with their teacher. A good meal or snack can’t be overlooked.


The sense of smell, or olfaction, is closely related to the sense of taste. Chemicals from food or floating in the air are sensed by olfactory receptors in the nose. This is probably one of the most important of all of the senses as it relates to school. Have you ever walked in a school and the smell of Febreze or another type of air refresher hits you and you just smile and say “this this school smells good.“ Unfortunately, I’ve also walked into a school and could smell the urine from the restroom. Unfortunately, the smell of both schools usually matched my experience at the schools. A clean and fresh smelling school is necessity and speaks volumes.


Touch or somatosensory perception is perceived by activation in neural receptors in the skin. The main sensation comes from pressure applied to these receptors, called mechanoreceptors. The skin has multiple receptors that sense levels of pressure from gentle brushing to firm as well as the time of application from a brief touch to sustained. There are also receptors for pain, known as nociceptors, and for temperature, called thermoreceptors. Impulses from all three types of receptors travel through the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system and the brain.

The high five is one of the most universal things in our world today. No offense to the low five, but a high five is something nearly everyone knows. Creating a safe place for a child is not only important in a Lead Small culture for the child but also for that parent entrusting you with their child on a weekly basis. A high five takes very little effort to perform but the implications of a high five can be a game changer. High fives—or fist bumps, if you’re a bit more edgy—can say many things to a person. To a shy first time guest it can say I’m glad you’re here without any words at all. A high five from one kid to another can affirm a child’s need of acceptance and friendship. Any small gesture can make a big impact in the life of a kid. Maybe it’s a secret handshake, an inside joke, or an awkward side hug. As a principal, I had my infamous fist bump followed by “show me some love.”


Sound is comprised of vibrations that are perceived by organs inside the ear. Hearing, also called audition, is the perception of sound. Sound is comprised of vibrations that are perceived by organs inside the ear through mechanoreceptors. Sound first travels into the ear canal and vibrates the ear drum.

Of the many goals you have on the first day of school, none compares in importance to setting the proper tone for your students. It is the initial impression of your classroom, after all, that establishes its culture. It’s the feeling, the pace, the attitude, the mood, and the spirit of the experience that expresses who you are, what you value, and what it means to be a member of your classroom.

Therefore, it’s imperative that a teacher utilize proper tone when communication with their students. Your tone of voice can make your interactions highly engaging or incredible off putting.  If there is any inconsistency between your words and your tone of voice, 85 percent of the time, listeners will trust what they hear in the tone of your voice, instead of your actual words.


Sight, or vision, is the ability of the eyes to perceive images of visible light. The structure of the eye is key in how the eye works. More and more studies show that learning not only depends on the will of students and teachers. Many educational needs are emerging and one of them is to create spaces that promote emotional well-being. It is demonstrated that the physical environment greatly influences our emotions. This happens in all the spaces that we walk every day and students spend many hours at school and inside their classrooms. So, why settle for boring desks in muted tones and white undecorated walls? It has been shown that the emotions felt in the classroom influence the effectiveness of learning. For example, the presence of cheerful colors stimulates creativity. Sadly, many people are still questioning which role creativity plays in learning mathematics, for example. In a complete formation, the students are not only there to receive scientific formation, but also artistic, physical and emotional. That is what the best valued schools internationally aspire to. Bright colors like red also help to improve the mood of those who usually think negatively or are introverted. Of course, those colors should be used with measure. As educator Rosan Bosch says, you should not aspire to create beautiful spaces, but spaces that contribute to change. It is not worth to over-decorate because the space can become over-stimulating. The ideal thing is to have the fewest elements as possible and choose them wisely so that they create a harmonious and useful learning space.

The “First Day of School” is one of the most exciting times of the year. The students are eager to see their friends and make new friends, teachers are excited to former scholars and eager to meet their new scholars, and the principals are ready to lead their school into the new school year. Therefore, it’s imperative that the school smells good, the scenery is appealing throughout the school, there’s a pleasant tone when parents/guardians are greeted, morning announcements are made, there’s a feeling of connectedness with the students and adults within the building, and breakfast, lunch, and what type of snacks are offered are delicious. The “First Day of School” can make or break a child. Let’s be sure we make it a positive one by ensuring each of the senses are pleasant to each and every child the first day and throughout the school year.