I read somewhere that when you are choosing a career, you should find something you hate in the world and try to fix it. I think this reasoning is a big reason why I went into teaching. As a child, I was very smart but not very cool. Here I'll share a few of the most memorable scenarios of my elementary life:
As you may have guessed, the problem I've set out to try and fix is inclusion. I've had so many experiences (as I'm sure you have too) where I have felt left out or unimportant, that I would hate for more children to live through the same problem. I've also been on the other side, where I was included but someone else was not, and I felt so lucky like at least I'm safe this time.
With that in mind, here are things I do in my teaching practice to make everyone feel valued and included.
At the beginning of the year, I make all the teams. I explain my reasoning to my students like so:
Some students will then bring up that when we do the Daily 5 component Read to Self it's not a good idea to be beside a friend, because they would distract you from your work!
Oh, I love birthdays! It's such a great opportunity to celebrate every child in the classroom! Here are some of my traditions:
Snack & Lunch times
I have an important rule for snack and lunchtime: no one can sit alone.
It's everyone's responsibility to ensure everyone has someone. This means if you see someone sitting alone, you have to either go over to them and sit with them, or invite them over to your table. easy peasy.
Once I explain why this is important, that sharing meal times is good for your brain, and helps you feel better, the kids just get it. This is one rule I have never needed to enforce. In fact, a few kids even transfer this rule to the playground, and go ask kids who are alone to join in on their games (which brings tears to my eyes, but I can't let them see it!).
Setting up play dates
When I've taught younger grades (grade 1 & 2), I sometimes 'takeover' their play time by setting up play dates. I am constantly surprised by the amount of kids who don't have play dates on weekends or week nights! So many of my students are surrounded by adults and screens...they miss out on great opportunities! With that in mind, I make up teams of 2, and remind them that I put a lot of effort into making these teams, so no complaining please!
We begin with a whole group discussion about what makes a great play date and what makes a good friend. Here are some of the answers we always come up with:
And I then send them with their partner to begin their play dates. If they are going particularly well, I stop it immediately- and tell them to exchange numbers to continue at home!
After 15 minutes, we pause, and do a whole group reflection. What am I doing to be a good friend? How could I make this play date better? These play date practices are a great opportunity for students to get to know one another, and practice communication skills, work their imagination and sense of humour and patience...I love it and so do the kids! I've had kids ask for more play dates instead of free play time.
As I am teaching a grade 2 & a grade 3 this year, I want to step up my play date game to hands-on team-building challenges. More on this when I get started!
How do you make sure everyone is included?
These are just a few of the ways I try to make all my students feel welcome in class and at school. It's so important for me to make sure my students feel safe and important- I don't think learning can take place without taking care of the basics first. How do you make sure everyone feels welcome in your class? I can't wait to see how others do it!
My 2016-2017 Classroom
During the first few days of school before the kids come in, every teacher is desperately trying to piece their room together in time for the big day. My process is usually quick (2 days) because I know exactly what I like and what I don't.
It's not unusual that over the course of these first few days that a few colleagues will ask me to take a look at their rooms, and offer any advice I have to make their room feel cozier, lighter, and clearer. I love to oblige to such flattering requests, and I thought I would share some of the hard and fast design rules I've developed over the last few years.
Symmetry is attractive
When you can, embrace symmetry. I visited a colleague's classroom and I offered simple changes to her room. She had 3 bookcases lined up on her front wall: tall, tall and small. I suggested she arrange them tall, small, tall. It made a big difference, and became more pleasing to the eye!
Never block a window!
Would you ever put a bookcase in front of a window at home? I hope the answer is no! Not only are you missing out on that beautiful natural light, but you are also making it harder to access the mechanisms to open said window. It's also important to work with the natural elements of your classrooms whenever you can.
Don't wait, just do!
The caretaker at my school and I have a running joke that I never need help for anything. It's far from true, but it started when he noticed me hammering nails to hang some frames. He offered to help, but I was already doing it! A few days later, he saw me climbing on my window ledges to install my curtains. He offered to help, but I was already up there!
What I'm trying to get to is that if you want to do something in your classroom, truly want to, you don't wait for someone to give you permission, or do it for you- you just do it! It's with this attitude that I quickly gathered the elements in my classroom toolbox. There's nothing major in there, only some light bulbs, tie-wraps, double-sided tape, Allen keys, and a multi-tool (screwdriver with all the tips). For everything else, I know the caretaker has the tools I need- and he let's me borrow without asking whenever I want!
The simplest way is often the best way
Once upon a time, I had a broken support system for my SmartBoard projector. It was taking the school board months to fix it, and I was tired of waiting. I lent the projector to my brother-in-law and he quickly built me a beautiful support for it out of wood and long metal screws.
However, once I brought the whole thing back to my classroom, the projector would slide down. I had to find a way for it to hold...at first I tried a million and one tie-wraps but the mess was so ugly, I chopped them all off and found a prettier, easier solution. I velcro-ed it in place. Whenever I am designing or creating something, I always consider the final look and function. Would 30 messy tie wraps have been attractive? how about sturdy? probably not. The best solution is often the simplest one. The same goes for placing classroom furniture!
People often tells me my classroom looks like a little home, or cafe. We seem to forget so quickly that for many of us, the hours we spend in school with our kids and colleagues far outnumber the hours we spend awake at home. We have so much artistic freedom as teachers- of course our rooms should be beautiful and function, like reflections of our homes! Your students will enjoy it more, and so will you!
Just like your home, you have to make your classroom yours. I have my signature touches, such as framing pictures of my student's playing or reading and hanging them up in class, but that doesn't mean everyone needs to do that. What are your musts? What are your signature touches?
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