In August, I traveled across the country to Eugene, Oregon. I had the opportunity to visit McCornack Elementary School, just one of several schools in the 4J District. I was immediately welcomed by smiling faces, even though the school year had not started. I noticed the dignity wall, where students agree to treat others with respect and the Principal’s Wall of Pride. The signs of a caring school community made me feel at ease, even in a school far away from home. Many teachers, as they do in all schools, were busy setting up classrooms well before the first day of school. This is just one of the many signs of dedicated hard working teachers I see when I visit classrooms all over the country.
I was impressed by the number of teachers setting up classrooms with alternative seating in mind! From giant yoga balls to cushions, standing desks and pillows, the comfort of students was considered before the teacher’s! The courtyard in the center of the school had a huge garden where someone was carefully tending plants all summer long so they would be ready for the return of excited students. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw a fancy chicken coop and yard set up for the school’s pet chickens. I am certain that students will feel welcomed and cared for as they return. No matter where I turned, groups of teachers were discussing how to make students feel welcome and cared for during the first few weeks of school to set the tone.
Setting the Tone!
This reminded me of the importance of developing a sense of belonging in the classroom. The class climate is what can make or break a successful year of teaching and learning many teachers and their students. Teachers feel pressured to begin teaching curriculum on the very first day. The time crunch begins before school even starts! However, easing students into the classroom setting again and allowing them to spend time warming up to their new school family is so important. I used to spend at least a week with activities that set the tone in my classroom. I noticed that discipline and off task behaviors declined. I knew that spending time, valuable time, engaging students in team building activities would provide an atmosphere of collaboration to last the entire year. My suggestion is to save the curriculum items for a few days, work them in slowly after creating your caring classroom setting. This important step is crucial to setting the tone. It is so important to provide many opportunities for students to meet new friends and get to know some that they may already know better. I always took walks with my classes. We’d notice the nature or lack of nature along the way. It was an informal way of getting to know each other. Hobby/Interest Surveys, Name Bingo with Chrysanthemum, Find a Friend Who, and How Much is My Name Worth...are great ways to add a fun team building activity every day during the first week. Next, move on to collaborative group activities such as the spaghetti/marshmallow challenge, gumdrop/toothpick challenge, building wide scavenger hunts, etc.
My journey continues!