Monday, July 29, 2019

Start the New School Year By Building Relationships

I love the newness of the beginning of the school year. New clothes, new shoes, new school supplies, freshly painted walls, and newly waxed floors. All are wonderful reminders of our opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again. If you are like most teachers, you may be tirelessly preparing for the first week of school and the to-do list seems never-ending.  But as we ready ourselves for the kickoff, let's keep in mind the reason we teach.  
Image Credit: Pixabay
The start of a school year has to be about building relationships.  It's a time to establish an atmosphere of cooperation and support so that significant learning can occur. Aside from imparting knowledge and skills, educators have a tremendous responsibility to lead young people on their learning journey. As they learn the rules to follow and the content they'll be taught, it's imperative that students build relationships with those who will be on the journey with them.  
Image Credit: Pixabay
Here are some of my favorite activities to help build classroom community.
Every student is given a bingo sheet. Each square contains a question and students must find classmates who can affirmatively answer a question and sign the corresponding square. Because students cannot sign more than one square, kids must circulate the room and talk to many different classmates in an effort to cover five in a row or even the entire sheet.  
Developed by Shelly Sanchez Terrell, students are given a list of questions, and for a period of one minute, pairs of classmates will interview each other and answer a given question. After a minute, they find another classmate and move to the next question. The game ends when all questions have been answered. This activity will help find commonalities. Students are often surprised to find how much they have in common with those they perceive to be most different. Afterward, students reflect on the results, which could lead to a group or class discussion, a writing activity or blog post. 
Using the presentation tool of their choice, students create a collage of images that represent a vision of their future. When completed, students present their vision boards to their classmates. While this a great strategy for focusing on goals and aspirations, sharing the boards with peers helps to find commonalities that can strengthen the classroom culture. Here's a sample.
Developed by Kyle Schwartz and featured on national news networks, the lesson plan was first implemented with third graders as a sentence starter. I adapted the lesson when I taught secondary English learners and used it as a blog post prompt. Students were asked to compose a paragraph and share any information they deemed essential to their learning. Teachers can gain invaluable insight from this activity. It can be implemented with any student population and can be tremendously helpful in planning for differentiation.
As we embark on the new school year, let's remember the words of Dr. James Comer. 
Learning about our students and helping them learn about each other helps develop significant relationships that should, in turn, maximize their learning experience.

Modified from its original version, I originally wrote this post as a response to Larry Ferlazzo's question, "What are the best ways to start a school year?" published on August 8, 2016. 

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