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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in classroom community

Posted by on in What If?

Every year, during the final few weeks of the school term, grim articles about how to hang on until the last day of school without losing your sanity abound. Loads of stern advice about topics such as the importance of managing stress and the misery of standardized testing and unpleasant conferences about failing grades seem to dominate teacher forums. What if, instead of just hanging on, you took a different approach to the time you have left with your students? An approach that includes some joy and fun and learning and all the other good things that school can be and should be every day.

One of the easiest ways to ensure that your students (and you) have a positive ending to the school year is to involve them in some of the many decisions that regulate classrooms instead of just trying to impose your will on a crowd of students who are distracted by warm weather and the promise of summer vacation. Brief class meetings now and then will not take up too much instructional time and can make an enormous difference in your classroom climate. Sometimes just raising student awareness about a problem and asking for their help is enough to solve it. 

The first few minutes of class after your students settle in and complete their warm up activities are an ideal time to hold a class meeting. Tell students that you are going to set a timer for a few minutes (the length of the meeting will vary according to the age and maturity of students as well as the topic under discussion) so that you can brainstorm together.

Have students move to form a circle so that you can see everyone and everyone can see you.

Establish quick ground rules for the meeting. The two most important ones are that students should listen courteously and respectfully and no one should talk unless they have permission to do so. Many teachers have found that giving students a token to serve as a “talking stick” sets a positive tone for a class meeting because it limits the number of students who want to speak to just the person with the token.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Jobs for kids! What a thought! It conjures up images of assembly lines with children chained, or at least velcroed to their seats. Not a pleasant, or even, legal image. Children are beautiful, full of life and fun. They are creative people with amazing minds. Why should parents and teachers yoke them to responsibilities aside from cleaning up their own messes, which they aren’t usually enamored with?

Many parents, including those I’ve met in conferences, are mind-blown by the idea. “We make her clean up her toys. What else should she do? She likes to play.” Yes, the children like to play and, in fact, that is how they learn to learn, learn to think, and learn to work with others. This is, or should be, a big part of early childhood. It is, in fact, crucial. But another thread in the fabric of learning needs to be a child’s meaning to the group beyond the personal. A child who feels that his or her meaningful contributions to either family or classroom are needed will have a greater sense of self-worth than those who are raised only to be future Yale grads, for instance (no offense to Yale grads—my favorite director of all time is one). I once recommended to the parents of a young girl that she have a job that was meaningful to the rest of the family. Something that, if she didn’t do it, would interrupt the flow of the family’s life as a community. “She picks up her toys. What else can she do?” It turned out that this girl, the youngest of three, sister to two older boys, hungered for work to do that was as beneficial to the family as that of her brothers. The parents decided she could fill the napkin holder. That was a start!

I like the image of woven fabric, because each thread is important to the whole. In the family, each child is as important to the fabric of the family as the parents are. The classroom, or center is also a piece of fabric, interwoven with threads that have different colors and textures, but that each give strength and beauty to the whole. Teachers, children, administrators, and parents are all part of this beautiful fabric. Most good centers have job boards (you don’t?! Get with it!). These daily jobs are like trophies to the children. Jobs are rotated each day or week, and each child has a job that is important. A job chart can be constructed many ways. 

Jobs are posted for children to make them feel included and important. Becky Bailey, of Conscious Discipline, has been instrumental in encouraging teachers to use job charts for creating a classroom family. In my experience, this is a powerful strategy for encouraging children to contribute, many of whom might otherwise feel disconnected, leading to acting out and attention-seeking behavior.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, "Make me feel important."  (Mary Kay Ash)

In educational circles today, I hear a lot about social and emotional skills, social and emotional learning, and so forth. Foundational for preschoolers to learn how to relate to the people around them and to begin to regulate themselves is a feeling of being valued and valuable. All children in our classes want to feel valued; they want to know (with the heart not the head) someone cares about them. They want the approval of adults. We teachers have a powerful impact on the lives of boys and girls.

A "simple" action is at the core of buildng a caring community that supports social and emotional skills - using names.

Names are the beginning point of the child's identity. Calling a child by name builds the relationship and helps the child feel that you know him and care about him. Once I was walking along behind a group of brothers. They stopped in the hall to wait for their mom. I spoke to each one, calling each by name. After I walked by, I heard one whisper, "He knows who we are." Knowing names = knowing the child. That makes them feel valued and important to you.

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Posted by on in General

 

 

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Why on Earth would anyone do a Google Hangout with students at 7 am? Well, before you begin jumping on my case about the fact that students need more sleep and that their optimal thinking times are later in the morning, let me explain.  First, know that the class I did the Google Hangout with was in a different time zone than me. Second, I was the one in the 7 am time zone. Not them. It was 9 am where they were.

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Posted by on in School Culture

When I was principal of a rural high school we did an exercise to determine which students had connections with adults in our building. We had every student’s name on a list hanging on the wall in the library. Armed with colored dot stickers teachers were to go through the entire list and place a sticker next to every student in which  they felt they had established a solid relationship. The stickers began to overlap for many children. These were the students that were social, popular, and active in extra curricular activities. These students that had multiple stickers liked school and liked their teachers. There was no doubt as to their graduation completion.

As the exercise continued we noticed that there were a few, 4 in all, that had not one sticker by the name. Who were these children? How had they managed to attend our school and yet not one teacher would say a relationship was established? The information was profound. These children were at the biggest risk for dropping out. They were disenfranchised.

A plan was put into place as we determined how we could get to know and engage these children in school. Various teachers would reach out and try to get to  know these students. Perhaps they could invite them to participate in an extra curricular activity. Maybe just having a deliberate conversation routinely would make a difference. How had these children slipped through the cracks?

Did we save them all? Sadly, we did not. Honestly we were able to reach 1 of the 4 and engage him in school. The other 3 ended up dropping out. I take responsibility for these 3. Never again would this happen under my watch.

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