Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together: Welcoming Students and Creating Classroom Community
The beginning of any school year is an opportunity to start fresh, bring new ideas to the classroom, and build new relationships with students. I see the beginning of the school year and building a classroom community like putting the puzzle pieces together. Some of the ideas I have implemented as a middle school teacher have made the beginning of the school year a welcoming experience for everyone.
Provide Students a Voice
Typically within the first 2 days of school, I use a Jeopardy-style game with my students. All of the questions revolve around our school, our classroom and me, the teacher. This is an active way to gamify our class “getting to know you” activity while students to get to know me, ask questions, and build a team atmosphere with one another. Students also write “burning questions” on post-it notes the first week of school, and we discuss those questions at the end of each period. I want to demonstrate to them that their ideas, thoughts, questions, and voices will be honored all school year long.
Create an Environment of Mutual Respect
Another tool that is valuable to putting our class culture together as a finalized puzzle, is to brainstorm and come to an agreed upon set of ideas about what they need to be successful students. We answer the question: what do I need to learn best in our classroom? Using the school motto or guiding principles, we create guidelines to acknowledge and respect the different type of learners in the room. It is much easier throughout the school year to hold students accountable to their work habits, efforts and attitudes, by referencing our agreed upon guidelines -not just the teacher’s rules. Especially those times when everyone becomes much more comfortable with one another and we need to revisit our focus on learning!
Make Room For Mistakes
As we all know, sometimes you will hold a puzzle piece and try, try and try again to make it fit into the final image. Allowing students room in my class to make mistakes and grow, is important to their development and self-efficacy as a learner. I openly share my mistakes and do not reflect every move they make in the final grade book. In our classroom, every opportunity is either a situation of success or of learning to do something better next time (And yes, students re-do work often).
Why would someone choose a puzzle to put together that they did not really want to keep or put together again? The same holds true for how I choose to present myself in my classroom. Students respond to who you are as a person. Be yourself- no matter the qualities you bring to your work with students every day-firm, funny, etc. Student engagement increases when the learning environment is predictable and authentic, & that begins with you, the teacher. You will become a part of the puzzle that completes a classroom community and builds a strong foundation for students from day one.