If you're anything like me, you're already thinking about the upcoming school year. You're thinking about how to set up your room, what new activities you can tackle, your new group of little loves and what they will be like - and most importantly - how do you get that new group to form a strong class community? I think about this every year. It is so important to me to keep my class tight knit and supportive of each other. Nothing warms my heart more than to see my students care for each other and form genuine friendships.
The question is - how do we get there? I look at it as part of my job to prepare my students to be caring, responsible citizens of their community. I have put a lot of thought into my approach to setting up the expectations of my classroom - I am constantly modifying and tweaking things to make it appropriate for each of my classes personalities. I have found that I always rely on a few simple basics to lay the foundation. Read below to see how I form my classroom family and log onto Teachers Pay Teachers to see my product on classroom expectations.
1. Be simple and clear.
Imagine that you're back in kindergarten. You're taking in your new surroundings, the new people, the new smells, and all. the. shiny. bright. colors. On top of all of that, your teacher sits you down with all your new friends and starts listing all of the things you can and cannot do, can and cannot touch, yes, yes, yes, no, no, no. We as teachers can get so excited to get started that we might forget the sensory overload we're placing on these little ones. I've come to find that if I keep it short, but clear, I'm more likely to keep my students' attentions.
My school, like many schools, uses the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports system (PBIS). We have the same three expectations throughout our entire building. This makes it so simple for all students because the basic expectations of Be Respectful, Be Responsible and Be Safe apply not only in their room, but in the hall, the gym, the bathroom etc. These expectations are also very clear to the students and can be modified as needed for each environment of the building. Consider sticking to 3 and no more than 4 expectations for your students, especially if you're teaching primary. Have these expectations posted and review them often!
2. Get the students involved!
I have learned from watching some of the best - I seriously work with some of the greatest kindergarten teachers on the planet! These teachers are so effective because they get their kiddos up and moving - especially when learning routines, procedures and behaviors! Have your students act out scenarios. My suggestion (and the most effective strategy I have found thus far) is for you to play the "bad kid." Kids will LOVE to tell you everything you're doing wrong and just exactly how YOU need to fix your behavior! It sets them up for success and also gives them the courage to speak up when they see something happening that is out of place.
Getting students involved in learning these expectations also allows them the opportunity to form trust with one another. It shows them that their classroom is a safe environment for them to be silly, to express their feelings and to speak up when something is wrong. Involving students in this process opens many doors for community building. This was a picture taken during the first week of school last year shortly after we discussed "Be Respectful."
3. Model the behavior you want to see.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's very important. We can't expect our students to follow the directions or be kind to others if they see us bend a rule or snap at people. Yes, everyone snaps, but if you do, turn it into a teachable moment. Explain to the students how emotions can get the better of you and share how it could go better the next time. If students see that you are willing to show your vulnerability and mistakes, they won't feel ashamed about making their own and then having the courage to fix them, like you do!
There was a day going into the spring of this past year when I lost my temper on a student and it could have been completely avoided. I immediately apologized to him, explained that I should have handled my emotions differently and asked for a hug. While hugging me the student said "It's okay Miss Lord, we all lose our tempers, I know you'll do better next time. Just like you tell me." My heart! It's days like that when I realize just how much of an impact we teachers can have on our students. It's also days like that when I realize my kindergarteners sometimes handle their emotions better than I do!
4. Communicate with the families.
It is imperative to get the families involved in your students' learning as much as possible. Especially right in the beginning of the year when students are starting to learn the basics of school and your classroom. If the parents are in the loop with these procedures and expectations from the beginning, they will be more likely to practice them at home with their child. When a child sees that you and their parents are working closely to keep them on track, they will naturally want to follow the expectations put in place for them.
I communicate with my families in a number of ways - newsletters, emails, notes, phone calls, you name it. At the beginning of the year, when I'm teaching my expectations, I send a note home with each child explaining what we've learned and ask for the family's help in implementing it. I have received an overwhelmingly positive response from families because it allows them to be involved in their child's learning from the start.
Other important things to remember...
I also find it important to choose what kind of language I use with my students in regards to my classroom community building. I use the word family. Many of my kindergarteners look at me at first as if I've grown a third head - you may receive the same reaction. I even had a student shout out "I DON'T KNOW YOU LIKE THAT!" in disgust one year (and I'll have you know that the same child was hugging all of his "school brothers and sisters" goodbye on the last day of school). Do not panic! Own it. Trust me! A family is a unit - a group of people who are there for each other no matter what - and that's what I expect of my students. In my classroom we work together as a family, we support each other as a family, we fight as a family and we love as a family. Since I switched to using this language with my students, I have seen a huge change in the way they view each other. I cannot count how many times I hear my students saying "We are a Room 5 Family" when sticking up for each other or when they're having normal conversation. It gives the students the sense that they belong to each other and it lets them know that our room is a safe place.
Another important thing to remember is to stay as positive as possible and to model ways for students to express their emotions effectively. I give my students sentence starters such as "I don't like it when..." or "It hurts my feelings that..." The classic "I" statements keeps the blame off of others and allows students to feel safe when confronting or being confronted. After apologies, students always end it with a handshake, high five or hug as a symbol that they're moving on. This gives closure to the conflict and makes each student start clean on a positive note.
The more diligent you are about setting up your expectations, practicing them, reviewing them and reviewing some more, the more smoothly your class will run. Students will feel safe, happy and comfortable and they will want to do their best for not only you, but for themselves. Because YOU set them up for success! And when you set up a strong classroom community...I mean family... You will be able to see true, genuine, supportive friendships in your students which will inevitably facilitate an amazing learning environment.