By Heather Skipworth Craven
It hardly seems fathomable that it's time to start a new school year again. Yes, it is time to fashion a brand new year, with all the countless preparations we so painstakingly do to get ready for our new students.
And after all the planning to begin the school year is in place, we take on the task of getting to know our students. We plan first day activities, catchy ways to remember student names and so forth. But getting to know our students needs to go much farther beyond icebreaker games and first day activities. So often teachers, especially beginning teachers get so caught up in making sure that their classroom structure is in place and that their discipline system is effective. Often getting to know our students and establishing relationships with them takes a back seat to wanting classroom control. It's the proverbial not seeing the forest for the trees. A fine balance is needed. Yes, it is important to set your expectations at the beginning of the year, but at the same time, we must build a relationship with every student. I believe once our students know that we have a genuine interest in them, who they are and what's going on in their lives, the structure and discipline will fall into place. Children will act out far less when they feel like their teacher is sincerely interested in them. They want to please and fulfill our expectations.
A goal of any teacher should be getting to know the students in his or her classroom on an academic level as well as a personal level. When the students know that their teacher is getting to know them and is building relationships, the students will know that the teacher cares. Teachers can get to know their students academically by assigning essays and writing assignments that measure their knowledge and abilities. These assignments are often open ended questions that allow students freedom to show what they can do. Another great way to get to know students academically is to assign presentations in front of the class. Often student can express their academic progress verbally in ways that would be missed otherwise.
To get to know students on a more personal level it is a good idea to have some sort of introduction assignment at the beginning of a term or semester. These assignments can be anywhere from a simple basic profile all the way to a creative art project or poem that reveals something personal about them. Some good things for students to share are information about their families, hobbies and interests, and any other fun facts. Another good way to get to know students personally is by listening to what they say during down time before and after class. Engage in their conversations whenever possible and act curious about their personal lives.
You should also begin building your classroom community. There are some key concepts that can be applied to the community of a classroom. Your students will of course bring their own unique diversity to the classroom, but will have common interests, backgrounds, and their own personal history. The classroom can be compared to a mini-society with goals, expectations, and limits. Students will be living and interacting with one another in a shared environment for ten months out of a year. I think also that the word community speaks of a group uniting, caring for each other and working cooperatively while respecting the individual contributions of it's members.
So how do teachers begin to juggle the responsibilities of meeting academic objectives, while taking the time to establish a vital sense of community in their classrooms? The key is building relationships. I'm not just referring to a few surface qualities, rather delving deeper into likes, dislikes, talents, unique histories, etc. Stating clearly your expectations from your students as individuals, but also what you expect the classroom to accomplish as a team on a daily, weekly and yearly basis. When the effort is put forth from the beginning of the year to establish strong relationships it makes for, I think, more ultimate success in the overall classroom goals as well as individual goals. Integrate your academics into team and community building activities. Be creative and innovative!!
Getting to know your students and establishing those all important relationships is a vital key to meeting the goal of a positive and successful school year.
Read our tip entitled "Tips For Getting To Know Your Students"