Happy Back to School season! If you're here, you're looking for 10 ways to build relationships with your scholars and establish community within your classroom starting the first day of school. Great start! Let's get to it!
Learn their names. Practice pronouncing their first and last names. If a name is difficult for you to pronounce, do not try to give the student a nickname or insist they go by another name. Instead, give them a chance to teach you something. Some things you might say may be "I will keep practicing, make sure you correct me as I am learning." or "Thank you for being so patient with me. I want to make sure I am saying your name correctly." Use multiple opportunities and interactions with the student to practice saying their name. Challenging the class to memory games can be a great way for students to get to know each other and for you to practice their names. Having students create an acronym poem of their name is a great way to learn more about each other and you will have something to decorate your classroom with.
Get to know your scholars. What are their interests? What is their culture? What do they love? What do they dislike? Interest surveys are a great place to start. You can even have the caregiver of the child fill out the interest survey to capture a better understanding of the student's home life. Once you learn more about your scholars, be sure to incorporate their interests in your classroom activities and lessons.
Smile, laugh and have fun. Everyone is nervous. Scholars will feed off of your energy. Whoever said, "don't smile 'til Christmas" lied. Your classroom will be full of humans who have endured a lot over the past eighteen months. Your ability to show emotion is part of what makes you human. Allow your scholars deserve to see the human, non-robotic side of you. Plus, they may not be FULLY shocked when they see you at the grocery store or anywhere in public.
4. Let them teach you. If you're reviewing math concepts, allow students to model their thinking using manipulatives and writing. Do not limit them to only "one way" of completing a math problem or "one way" of analyzing a text. Show that you make mistakes. I purposely make mistakes when doing math problems or reading aloud because kids LOVE to correct their teachers. Further in the year, I'll hand the marker over to a student and they get to teach the class. They LOVE it.
5. Set your classroom expectations TOGETHER. Your classroom should be student centered, period. I have my one corner with my desk and computer, but ultimately, the classroom belongs to my scholars. In the beginning of the year, have some discussion around what your scholars hope to experience throughout the school year. Do some brainstorming and allow students to suggest expectations that we will agree to in order to ensure our classroom functions in the way that we desire. My favorite way to introduce desirable and undesirable behaviors if through read alouds! Here are some of my favorites:
6. Accept that things will not be perfect. You won't be every child's favorite teacher and every child will not be your favorite scholar. Remember, we're all humans. If something does not go as planned, use it as a teachable moment to show your scholars. Be flexible and open to adjust plans as needed.
7. Connect with families. I challenge myself each year to call each parent within the first two weeks of school to share something positive about their child. This ensures parents understand the lines of communication and knows that you are giving your child a clean slate. Speaking of a clean slate, skip the gossip session with your scholar's former teachers. It opens the door for unconscious bias and harmful decisions, but that's another blog for another day. 8. Find opportunities to make small talk. It can be anything from like shoes, toys, music, hair, nature, sports, or games. Kids love to talk about what they like. As they talk, make mental notes or write down what you learn about your students. This information can be used later when planning lessons and activities. Plus, it'll make them feel so special.
9. Take time to listen. You can learn so much about your scholars by simply listening. Think of it as aggressively gathering informal data that will be used to inform your instruction. If you know your students are all about TikTok dances, you can research how to teach or memorize a concept using movements. If you know your students love Roblox or K'Nex, take some time to learn how building can be incorporated in your area lesson or sequencing text.
10. Give lots of grace to yourself, your scholars, their families, your colleagues, and your administration. Energy feeds on energy. One of the best things you can do is model healthy self-awareness and be real about how to handle what life throws at you. I think my scholars got to know me best in 2018. I was pregnant and struggling. I was open and honest with them during our morning meetings and shared things that I was doing to make sure I was taking care of myself. When adults model this, scholars are able to do the same for themselves. They are able to explore when grace, empathy, compassion, and patience look like by having real, honest conversations with people they trust. I remember I was rushing to a parent teacher conference. When I arrived out of breath and 8 months pregnant, my student said, "Don't worry Mrs. Smith. I told my mommy you'd be waddling up here soon." She was absolutely right and was able to give me some grace and an early morning laugh. Be yourself, kids can see through the façade.
Happy School Year!