|A beautiful keepsake made by an extraordinary parent helper...|
Yesterday, I inadvertantly received the best complement about my teaching of all time. We were all sitting in a circle, signing autograph books with each other. A girl said, "I am going to miss everyone in this class so much, I feel like we're all friends, and we care about each other." Then, a boy responded with, "I feel like there was a lot of drama last year, and this year has had no drama, everyone gets along really well." And then he said, "I want our whole class to stay together, because everyone is so nice."
This class merged from three different classrooms. At the beginning of the year, there were three distinct divisions between the students. That is unusual at my current school, not so unusual at my former schools, where students were rearranged and merged yearly. When you bring different people together, they all have their own personalities, opinions, and assumptions. My goal is not only to get students to grade level in all subject areas (Mr. Bush), but to get students to think, and to understand themselves on a very personal level. On our first few field trips, I noticed that the students self-segregated, based on their former classrooms. Also, because I went out for recess with the kids each day, I noticed that this behavior also happened at recess. They needed to be knitted together.
This year, we had a student that everyone picked on. I watched his attention seeking behavior during the first two weeks of class. I watched the harsh way that the other students responded. So, I modeled for the class that I liked this kid. Because, frankly, I DID like him. We also had a class meeting, when he was absent, to discuss how we were going to combat his attention seeking. I had a personal meeting with him, and told him what we had talked about in our class meeting. Slowly, but surely, things began to change. It was a daily effort for everyone. And, the more liked this student felt, the more he blossomed. The students saw that I really, genuinely liked him, so they felt that it was okay for them to like him, too. His sense of humor came out. Kids laughed at his jokes, where before, they would have given him eye rolls. Yesterday, he held my hand as we walked down the hall out to the parent pickup area. He made me a sign that said "Best Year Ever".
The number one way of bringing a class together is an activity called "Community Circle". I don't know who I stole the idea from, but I've used it every single year, and it never fails to make my class like a family. For a half hour, once a week, we sit on the floor in a circle. We pass a stuffed animal around the circle. When you get the animal, you must give one person in the circle a positive, detailed complement. You can pass the first time around, but then you must deliver a complement the second time the animal travels around the circle. This is very difficult for many children. Some don't know how to give a positive complement. But, no matter how difficult, it forces kids to look outside of themselves, and to love and admire others. It also forces kids to review their actions. Was how I acted "complement worthy"? As the year wears on, it becomes easier for almost everyone to give a complement, including me.
The next way of knitting a class together is by making complement cards. I stole this idea from a nun at a private Catholic school. Each student writes a complement on a card about one specific student. Then, the students are given their cards. Each card has 30 different complements from their classmates on it. Many years ago, one of my students ended up in Juvenile Hall. He was stripped of everything but his underpants, and his complement card, because he was at risk for self-harm. I heard that he sat in his cell and read the card over and over again. The nun also wrote of similar situations with her students involving complement cards. At my current school, I have so much wonderful parent support. Parents have typed up these cards. In the past, I typed them during Christmas vacation. It was a big pain. For a couple of years, I skipped them. They were years that the class members did not gel, or get along as well.
Another tool for making kids come together, is by reading a magazine called "Teaching Tolerance". I need to get the subscription adjusted to my new school address. It is full of further ideas about how to make students care about each other. The ideas run across all grade levels.
I don't mean to say that everything was perfect between kids this year, because it wasn't. There were many problems and conflicts. In fact, there was a lot of strife! Often, there were hurt feelings. Any conflicts, I tried to deal with individually, with just the students involved. Sometimes, though, I blew it, and disciplined in front of everyone, when I shouldn't have. But, the kids were pretty forgiving of my mistakes, because I was pretty forgiving of their mistakes.