There are so many things at the top of the teacher’s list when the new school year begins. What kind of schedule will I have? How will the students’ behavior plan work? When will I teach math? What rules will we use this year? The list goes on and on.
There is one thing that is often overlooked but probably one of the most important:
How will I build my classroom community?
Classroom community is the culture of your classroom. It is the way it will function and the way your kids will get along for the entire year. It is the relationships that are built not only between students, but with their teacher.
Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Try these out and don’t be surprised to hear your students singing “we are family” before Thanksgiving break!
Pen Pals can be set up in many different ways. Students are able to write letters and notes to their friends and to their teacher. This is a way for them to practice their writing skills and also to build relationships. In order to stop them from writing notes to the same friend over and over again you can change it up by having them pull a name out of a hat. You can even have special days (like when it is somebody’s birthday) when everyone can write that one student a letter. This will make them feel so special! Penpals are super fun and the kids always wait to see if there is a special note in the mailbox for them.
Shout outs have transformed my classroom culture. They are pretty much a way to give a shout out to someone when they do something awesome. I have different post it note pads set up around the room that students can use to write a shout out to a friend. A shout out can be for a big accomplishment on a math problem, completing a computer goal or for being kind. Students check the shout out board every day to see if they have a special note. I write shout outs to them from time to time and they love to see one from their teacher. This is a constant reminder of the classroom community that we have built and when students are having a rough day, it is something for them to refer to. You can have your shout out board somewhere that everybody can see it and it can be enjoyed by all who come into your classroom. This idea was inspired by Ms. Joanne Miller, who you can find on Instagram @headoverheelsforteaching!
The homework club is an accountability system as much as it is a way to build up your students and have them work together. Basically, students who do their homework get to stay in the club. If you do not do your homework, you are out of the club. The twist is that if ALL students stay in the club all month the reward gets a lot more extravagant (think pizza party with a movie). Students will motivate each other to complete their homework and meet their goals. They will call each other at night to remind their friends about assignments. This is huge! It builds their sense of responsibility and teaches them what team work is all about. It has changed the entire tone of homework in my class and kids actually do their work every night!
Morning meeting is a way for the day to start off on a positive note. Students are able to share special things that they did from the day before and there’s always an icebreaker activity to. Morning meeting can last anywhere between five minutes to 20 minutes. Some teachers choose to do one long morning meeting on Fridays and others choose to do one daily. This allows for students to share about their personal lives and allows all of the children to get to know each other on a more intimate level. It is also a great time to share each other‘s accomplishments and highlight awesome student behavior. You can even have a certain leader each day to facilitate the meeting and students will behave extra well in order to achieve this special duty.
I hope these ideas inspire you to build your classroom community from day one in the classroom. It will change your year and if you let it, the bonds you create with your students and that they create with each other, will stick with you all for life!