It was my first day of teaching, and I had a room full of six year olds preparing to walk through that door with expectations of a great year. I had my management system in place, which happened to be cards they would change when they broke a rule – I can’t believe this was the best thing I had at the time, but I digress. I was going to take everything I learned in college to make sure I set firm rules and procedures with my first graders. They would know exactly who was in charge of that classroom and there was no doubt that they would listen and follow the rules. If I did everything Harry Wong said in his book, I would have that class in shape in just a few short week. Man, was I making rookie mistakes from the beginning!
Fast forward 15 years later, and my viewpoint on how to set up my classroom environment has completely changed. Why didn’t anybody tell me that if I just connect with those students they will be more willing to learn? Why didn’t my professors tell me that if those kids don’t feel safe and loved, and secure, they won’t want to follow the rules. My job isn’t just to teach those kids the rules during the first couple weeks of school. I have a responsibility to make sure they know this isn’t MY classroom, but THEIR classroom.
There are three strategies I started using in my classroom that changed the way I created culture in the classroom and made me a better teacher for everyone involved.
Let the students know YOU I’m not talking about knowing that you are Mrs. Williams in Room12, but let them know the person behind that teacher. What do you like to do on the weekend? Which sports teams do you like? Tell them about your family, your kids, your favorite vacations. When those students are completing the first day “Get to Know Me” worksheets, or doing the activities, you should be doing it right along the side of them. You are going to be spending 180 days with these people, so let’s get down to the real important information.
Find a connection with each and every student Could you imagine stepping into a room where you don’t know anyone, and there is this stranger telling you what you need to do? This wouldn’t go over well with me as an adult, so why do we expect it to work with kids? As soon as the students feel heard, and validated, they are more likely to want to follow procedures of the classroom. I listen to what the kids are talking about at recess, I play wallball and kickball at recess with my class, and I just talk with them. All of a sudden, I am involved with their likes and dislikes and can talk to them about their worries, and can suggest books for them to read because I know what they like. The look on their face, when I ask them how their football game went that weekend, or want to know when their next dance recital will be, makes it all worth it, and lets them know that I have a connection to them.
Laugh Often One of my favorite things to do when I am teaching the students about expectations is to go over examples, and non-examples of procedures. The non-examples happen to be one of the things my students beg for throughout the year.
Let’s talk about the procedure of lining up. After you have gone through the whole procedure of how to line up correctly, you’ve made your “looks like/sounds like” poster and are ready to practice. Choose five-ish students to line up exactly as the procedure would be in a dream world.
Everyone watches and we talk about what went well and what we need to improve upon. We do this multiple times, with multiple students, and now for the grand finale….NON-EXAMPLES! The next group of kids get to show you what it should NOT look like and/or sound like. They might talk the whole way in line, or run, or not even move. They will walk to go find a friend, or sharpen pencils along the way, it doesn’t matter what it is, it always gets a laugh. The kids think of the craziest, but still being safe, way to line up for this non-example. This is fun, and it is memorable, and it helps the kids know that we can learn and still have fun. They love seeing my reaction to these examples and enjoy watching me laugh at their craziness. The most important part of the non-example is now bringing it back to the good! After you talk about what can be worked on with the procedure, that same group of kids will now show you a good example of that exact procedure. This shows both you and them that they do know how to follow this procedure. There aren’t any more excuses! You better believe that they won’t forget what it should not look like.
Rita Pierson is known for saying “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” I think within that, it means they needs to know they are safe and secure, and well as valued. Make sure as you are going through this school year you set aside time to get to know your students and make connections with them that will set the scene for the whole year.
Heather Campbell is a mother, wife, and a 4th Grade teacher in Utah.
Follow Heather on Instagram: @seriousgiggles