Beginning a new school year is an opportunity to start fresh: a new beginning, new teacher, new friends. With all these “new things”, this can also be a time of uncertainty, nervous feelings, even anxiety for some students. Careful planning by teachers and conversations by parents can ease this transition, so everyone starts the year off on a successful foot!
To help with a the summer-school, everything is new transition and ease some fears, many schools hold a “Back 2 School” event to allow students and families to meet teachers, bring in school supplies, ask a few questions, and just begin to get acquainted with the “thought of school”. Below you’ll see how the space outside of my classroom looks when families are greeted that first day, the Back 2 School event! How your “space” is decorated inside and outside the classroom can really set the tone for learning that occurs. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “You only get one time to make a first impression.” I want my first impression to be focused on a positive, happy, successful learning environment and soon family.
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Making New Friends
During our first week of school, students engage in a variety of lessons and games to get to know each other. There may be new students to the school or classroom, and certainly everyone is new to my class; therefore, we work on building our “learning community” or how I like to call it, “our family”. This building process does not happen overnight. This process will take a few dedicated weeks of lessons designed to focus on learning about each other and how to work together. We’ll engage in fun “getting to know you” lessons, as well as learning lessons. Of course, just like any important item in life, it takes time, work, and consistency to build success. That’s why we don’t stop here with our “family” building lessons. Additional “tune-ups” will continue throughout the year.
Builiding a Community – Step One
Once we’ve done some “Getting to Know You” activities the first couple days of school, it is time for students to begin building learning expectations that will help each student learn and be a great citizen in our classroom.
The first step in building this process is developing our classroom expectations and procedures. Instead of me telling the kids what the rules are in our classroom, we come up with them together. Now . . . you should know that I do have an idea of how I want my classroom to operate and I do know what students are capable of doing, but I let the kids have input to this “classroom operation” while I guide them to a successful outcome. This is essential to build our successful learning environment.
Learning How to Collaborate
Collaborating is an essential life skill. Not only do we need to collaborate to learn, but we need this skill for the future. When employers look for qualified candidates, one of the traits they are looking for is someone who can collaborate well and interact appropriately with others. Therefore, this is a skill we work on when developing our learning community and continue fine tuning this skill throughout the year.
Everyday, we work on collaborating as a team! Not only is this a great way for the students to learn more about each other (yes, I expect them to talk about themselves while working), but it is also a way to learn about each other and develop collaboration skills working in a small team. Here you’ll notice the students working together to discuss the rules and expectations that they think are important for our class. I choose to use a small group format for several reasons.
Cooperative Learning Benefits
As I have mentioned, collaboration is a life skill that is important in all parts of life. When we take this one step further, we call this cooperating. This is another important skill (and an employable skill) that is used in the classroom and work environment.
When students collaborate successfully, they are now able to cooperate and learn from each other and deepen their learning experiences, resulting in increased achievement. I want to take this opportunity to share some important “caveats” to cooperative learning from the student and teacher perspective.
All students get to share their thoughts about expectations.
I’m still learning who my shy kids are, so this is great for those kids to interact in a small group.
The students also share their personal experiences about the topic with the small group.
The expectation that we work together, cooperate, and learn is being established every day.
This learning format is more engaging than me standing in front of the class talking.
Diversity . . . Appreciating Each Other
Another step in building our classroom community is learning how to get along by appreciating and valuing what each person brings to our learning environment. One thing we know, everyone, yes everyone is different. We have different physical appearances, different behaviors, different ways of learning, different perspectives . . we are all different! As adults, we get it, but for students, they are still learning.
I love to pull in children’s literature to teach concepts whenever the opportunity is present. So this is literally all the time. It is interesting how an adult can share the reasons why we do this or that, but when students listen to a story and can connect with the character, the lesson is so powerful! Teaching and learning about diversity is a topic that can bring about many historical lessons, feelings, connections, and more questions. If you’re looking for some great books to teach about diversity, check out these “10 Children’s Books About Diversity”. This list will get you started, and I know you’ll find many more to use with your own children.
Here is one of my favorite books, Chrysanthemum, that I read to my students. I use this book for a variety of lessons, but you can easily see how this one teaches about diversity.
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Final Thoughts About a New School Year . . . a Fresh Start
Beginning a new school year is a challenging task. However, when the planning is done with a mindfulness to building a learning community that will be able to thrive throughout the year, the time and energy put in is totally worth the effort.
As I’ve shared, three keys to a successful year involve the family being able to collaborate, cooperative, and appreciate diversity. When these traits are part of any learning environment, working environment, family, even friendly relationships, there will be more successes along the way.
How do you teach these guidelines and expectations in your classroom?
Annette has been an educator for more than 30 years working in the PK-6 elementary classroom, K-12 multi-language learner instructional specialist, district leadership, university professor, as well as a mentor for teachers nationwide. A National Board Certificated Teacher, Annette focuses her research on accelerating learning and advancing achievement, personalizing instruction, technology, and leadership in the education field.