How do we create a classroom community where all students feel they are equal and belong? It turns out we’ve had more combined grade classes that straight grade classes since we began teaching, so we can’t imagine teaching any other way. First of all, we call it a combined class rather than a split class. It’s the first thing we do with parents because our combined classes are not like the old ‘split’ classes.
When students come into our classroom on the first day of school they immediately collect into two different groups-the lower grade and the upper grade. They don’t know each other well and like to sit with their friends. We don’t give students a seating plan right away (or sometimes at all) so we can see which relationships form or are already in place, but then we slowly start changing their mindset about the combined class.
So, what are our secrets?
Imagine a classroom where the students monitored themselves-and not in that “hall pass police officer” type of way. Imagine a classroom where students encouraged each other to keep the room tidy, put things way and treat each other with respect.
It’s possible, because each year we turn out a classroom full of polite and respectful students, but it takes work. Creating a sense of agency is just as important as all the math and reading skills.
What is a sense of agency? It is a student-centered approach to classroom management.
Here are some ways we create a sense of agency.
It’s the first day we’ve been allowed to reenter the school after a major renovation. It’s a disaster. Nothing we carefully packed up and labeled before summer break has been returned to the rooms they once belonged and school starts in ONE day! Yup! You heard that right.
What a nightmare! But fortunately we worked with the most amazing staff on the planet and came up with a solution to bring everyone’s anxiety level down to a manageable level. We hosted a walking set-up bus.
Here’s what we did. Continue Reading
At the beginning of the school year we work hard to teach students some basic courtesies to make everyone happier and keep students responsible for their learning space. these are five basic things we teach repeatedly during the first month of school to our upper elementary students. We also want to stress that just because this is how we do things, doesn’t mean these procedures will work ‘as is’ in your classroom. Feel free to solve the issues in your own way. Continue Reading
Teachers out there know that smell…the new crayon. It’s still perfect. It still has all its paper wrapping and is perfectly pointy. It hasn’t rubbed up against other crayons and gotten dirty. It hasn’t been dropped on the floor, or broken in half or left in the lost and found bin with a bunch of broken crayons. And if you close your eyes and take a whiff of that new crayon, you can still transport yourself back to your childhood. For teachers, the crayon smell is a high. For students, not so much.
Without building relationships with students first, you will never get them to learn. We often think about students based on their academic gain over their year with us, but we need to also think about their social emotional health and how that has grown.
It is impossible to teach students if they don’t know you.
It is impossible for students to take risks when they don’t trust you.
It is impossible for students to grow as learners if they don’t want to work hard for you.
You are their cheerleader. You are their mentor. You are the push they need or the hand to hold.
We know they are more than a test score. Think about all the things you have taught students that aren’t reflected in numbers.
No one grows ever grows up to get a tattoo of their test scores. Continue Reading
Brag Tags seem to be all over the place, but our students in grades four and five didn’t like all the little kid clip art and they weren’t going to be caught dead wearing a tag on a necklace, so we asked them what they wanted instead and they came up with a brilliant solution. Continue Reading
Do your students write goals? It can be an effective way to have students learn to take responsibility for their behavior or learning. We tried something new this year. Students chose a power word instead of goal. Continue Reading
Teachers are notorious for never really taking a break. We’re super teachers! We never need sleep or down time or family. Somehow we feel guilty if we don’t spend our whole summers getting ready for the new school year.
It’s true-we could spend every waking moment working on our classrooms or planning amazing lessons for our students. Should we feel guilty for not spending every weekend slaving over marking or making resources?
Absolutely not. After all these years of teaching, we’ve managed to figure out that it will still work out whether we spend a thousand hours or three. Continue Reading