Creating Community Connects Kids
Seven Quick Tips to Help Your Students Feel Connected
I've just started my second year of teaching, and the tips I'm sharing here are ideas that my fellow teachers have been generous enough to share with me.
One of my goals is to create a strong sense of community in my classroom. To help me achieve that, I incorporate these seven teacher-tested ideas.
I have my students sitting in groups and I encourage them to ask questions of each other rather than coming to me with everything, so they can learn to rely on each other.
I really try to focus on the positive behaviors and actions in my classroom.
I ask the students to do a Think, Pair, Share. Each student comes up with five rules, shares them with their table, and then we create a big class list. We talk about the rules to see if we can combine any of them. My goal is to lead them to these four rules:
- Show respect
- Stay on task
- Be prepared
This year, for example, I combined their rules "no talking, the golden rule, keeping hands and feet to ourselves, no bad language, taking care of other's property" into "Show Respect." Having students talk about and help create the rules helps them take ownership of them.
Then we write a constitution: "We, the students, promise to follow the rules…" and everyone signs it. They each take a copy home for homework—their parents have to sign it—and that way parents are also aware of our class rules.
When a student "chooses" to break a rule (this is how we stress it, because they know the rules, and, thus, they are making the choice not to do the right thing), I ask them to take a slip of paper that says the rule they chose not to follow. (I make up slips ahead of time.) And I tell them why they are taking a slip—the inappropriate behavior—and a better choice to make the next time. This seems to help them see what they did and (hopefully) gives them something to think about on their way to putting the slip in their personal pocket chart.
Both years now, my students have wanted to have a class mascot—in addition to our school mascot. I thought a class mascot might bring my class a little closer and give us our own identity in the school.
I bought a stuffed animal for our actual mascot, and when students are working well at their seats or I hear them being kind to one another, they get to hold Rusty, the dog. I also use him as a motivator for tables of students. If one table has followed all the directions or are working quietly or really well together—Rusty will come and visit their table for a while. (I liked our mascot last year better—Mrs. Meade's Monkeys—but this class wanted to be the dogs so that is what we are).
So everything I do in class is about the dogs. The Weekly Woof is a newsletter that goes home to the families every week. I include classroom business—reminders, upcoming events, concerns, thanks, praises, and my contact information—and homework business—what we are studying each week plus some tips for reading or doing homework. As part of their homework for Monday, the students have their parents read and sign the newsletter. It is my weekly contact the parents and I want to know that they have read it.
The class earns Hot Dog Rewards by filling the marble jar. I add marbles for the times that I catch them following the class rules. To further motivate them and to encourage them to think as a group, I let them choose the rewards. (And I remind them of the reward when they don't follow the rules.) They have already earned a dessert party and are now working toward a game day.
We did an activity on the first day of school where we cut out a big heart and I had the class sign it. We talked about how our hearts are very fragile and how they can get hurt easily. We went around the classroom and everyone shared something mean someone has said to them that hurt their feelings. Each time a student shared, I crumpled up the heart until it was in a tiny ball. Then I asked students to share something nice they could say to someone. After each compliment I flattened the heart back out. I then pointed out to the students that the heart was still wrinkled to show them that hurtful comments can stick with us for a long time.
Our principal has started a program with the faculty that I would like to use in my classroom. It is based on the book How Full is Your Bucket: Positive Strategies for Life and Work by Donald O. Clifton. In it, the author talks about how when our bucket is full—with pride, self-esteem, friendship, compliments—we feel really good. If our bucket is empty because people are dipping from it—with put downs and by being unfriendly—we feel really bad. So we need to remember to "fill each other's buckets" every day because when we fill someone else's bucket, we are filling our own. I think I am going to try that in my classroom.
Every week our principal pulls a name out of a box that teachers have filled with notes about how someone filled their bucket, and she gives that person a little treat and lets them wear jeans one day the following week.
I think I could do that in my classroom, and the student that I choose who has filled someone's bucket, gets to take home Rusty, the class dog, for the night.
About the Author
Nichole Meade teaches at Cedar Road Elementary in Chesapeake, Virginia. Last year, during her first year of teaching, she had a mentor who provided her with many great ideas. In fact, her entire grade level was so helpful and supportive, Meade felt like she had six mentors. She got ideas from all of them.