August is the time of year for most of us that we are holding on to the last weeks of time with our families while are brain is increasingly thinking about the coming school year. There are so many details to think about – and a deep sense of curiosity and anticipation in getting to know our “new” students. If you think back to your own years as a student, what memories stand out that helped you know you belonged or you mattered at school. Was there one particular teacher? A set of friends? An event or some particularly interesting content.
As you think forward not to the beginning of this school year, but to May or June, what memories would you like your students to carry with them? What would leave them feeling like they really mattered and that they belonged in your classroom? You can’t do this by yourself. The community you create between students in your room will be your “project assistant.” Here are some things to think about:
- Learning names. Sometimes we take this for granted. Though we work hard at learning the names of our students, they don’t always know each other’s names. What can you do to lift this out? Provide opportunities for students to celebrate their names and learn new classmates’ names. You can play name games, “get to know you bingo” or have students decorate name tags which illustrate who the are and what is important to them. Introducing each other with the nametags helps build connection. If you teach older students, invite them to brainstorm a way to learn each other’s names.
- Meaningful work. Be intentional about ensuring that your classroom has jobs. In elementary school, it is helpful to have a job for every student that rotates every week of two. In secondary school, you will have fewer jobs which also rotate. Think about what you can do to make jobs meaningful? How will you take time for training? What are you doing right now in the classroom that students could do? This will make your life easier and allow your students to see themselves as valuable contributors to the community. If you need ideas we recommend Positive Discipline in the School and Classroom.
- What do they want? Did any of your teachers ever ask you about what you hoped to learn or accomplish during the year? What would have happened if they had and used your ideas to connect to their teaching? Your students (and their families) have dreams and hopes about their education. Experiment with asking your students and using their answers. We asked a first-grade class what they wanted to learn in math and their list included: numbers, algebra and spelling. It was fun to use their list to connect with their math lessons. For example, even though they didn’t master algebra, they did start writing simple equations and filling in the blanks – a basic algebra skill. They practiced simple word problems and we paid attention to the (intentional) spelling mistakes.
- Classroom rituals, things that you do repeatedly are great opportunities to make a memory of what is was like in that grade. Be intentional about repetitive activities like read alouds, mindfulness practices and class meetings. They will build strong positive memories for your students.
- Keep track of experiences, class traditions and learning. The school day is busy and full of learning, friendships, and powerful experiences. The days turn into weeks and months and before you know it the school year is half over and it is hard to remember back to September. How can you help students capture memories throughout the year? A class historian job where the student takes pictures of learning events and makes entries into a class journal describing the event. Interview a few students briefly each week about important learning or fun things they remember from the week. These video snapshots could be compiled to review at the end of the year.