Making students feel included and building community requires an unwavering commitment throughout the year. This blog post includes activities that promote a sense of belonging, and an emphasis on community building. The following are strategies and activities you can use to set the tone of respect and inclusion in your classroom this year.
Setting Class Goals
Ask students to fold one piece of blank paper in half to create four columns (front and back). Label the first column “200 years ago”. Ask students to list jobs they think existed during that period (3-4 minutes). Have students share out, and encourage them to write down new ideas they hear. In the next column ask students to list jobs that exist “Today.” Share out. In the third column, ask students to list jobs that will exist in the “Future” (jobs that will exist after your students have gone to college). Share out. Finally, ask students to list the “Skills” they will need to acquire those jobs in the future. Share out and record on chart paper. Students have just created their classroom goals for the year. Post and refer to these goals often as a significant reason for being together in your class.
Ask students to stand in a circle. Have each student share their name and a gesture that reflects an interest of theirs. For example, “My name is Jerry and (motioning like he is swinging a bat) I like baseball.” Students can repeat the name and gesture in unison, or you can challenge students’ memories. For example, ask the second student to repeat the name and gesture of the first person. Have the third student repeat the name and gestures of students 1 and 2. Continue this pattern until the last person in the circle repeats everyone’s name and gesture.
Individual Goals Chart
Use a sheet of butcher paper and create the following columns:
Name, Date of Birth, Place of Birth, Languages Spoken, Goals in 5 Years, Goals in 10 Years. You may need 2 or 3 pieces of butcher paper depending on your class size. Invite clusters of students to list their information under each heading. This creates an excellent medium for generating questions and discussions across content areas: Math/Social Studies/Geography. How many students in our class were born in ___? How many students in our class speak more than one language? On which continent were most/least students born? How many students see themselves in college in 10 years?
Provide each student with one index card and ask them to write the numbers 1-5. Beside number 1) have students write their favorite movie; number 2) a favorite book; number 3) favorite food; 4) favorite person; and 5) favorite place. Once students have filled in their cards, collect them and ask everyone to stand. Pick one random card and read number 1 (favorite movie). Students who wrote this movie on their card remain standing. Students with other movies listed sit down. Read through the rest of the card using the same process until you have only one person standing. The card read belongs to that student. Read two to three cards each day until everyone’s “favorites” have been revealed.
My Favorite (remix)
Students follow the same directions from above to fill out the index cards. Collect all cards, shuffle them, and redistribute to students. Students stand and move about the room trying to find the student whose card they have. Students ask, “Is your favorite book ___?” “Is your favorite food ___?” Once students have found their “new friend” and have themselves also been found, the students sit down together. Once all students are seated, have students introduce their “new friend”.
Identify the student(s) who are the most challenging in your classroom. Spend 2 minutes with each challenging student individually for 10 consecutive days (before school, recess, at lunch, after school) discussing topics of interest (hobbies, favorite subjects, music, movies, and other interests).
This strategy allows students to voice thoughts and opinions about a variety of social and academic topics. Assemble students in a circle, then write a prompt on the board such as:
“My weekend was ___ because ___.”
“If I had one wish I would ___.”
“From our science experiment I learned ___.”
Students take turns verbally filling in the phrase. While doing so they can pass an object (squishy ball, talking stick, etc.) that indicates whose turn it is to talk. Students can also create sentence starters/topics for the class.
Agreements are the behavioral expectations or class norms that take the place of rules. According to the community building resource Tribes by Jeanne Gibbs, there are four agreements: Mutual Respect, No Put Downs, Attentive Listening, and The Right to Pass. The Community Circle, described above, is the perfect place to practice and evaluate (see below) the agreements at the beginning of class.
Evaluate Class Performance (1, 2, or 3)
Student analysis and evaluation of behavior is critical to the development of a positive learning environment. Mutual Respect, No Put Downs, Attentive Listening, and The Right to Pass are the “lenses” or Classroom Agreements, based on the Tribes program, through which you and students can analyze classroom behavior. After completing an activity such as community circle, a lesson, discussion, transition from recess back to class, etc., ask students to evaluate how the class did by indicating 1, 2, or 3 on their fingers. Have students share why they indicated a particular number. Keep in mind that students’ comments should be general when talking about students in the class (e.g. “some students in our class…”) and very specific about behavior (“... did not go directly to their desks after the bell.”). Ask students what they can do to improve or influence students’ behavior in a positive way.
Ask students to stand in a circle and clasp hands. Tell students that you are going to time how long it takes to get the “heartbeat” around the circle. You begin by squeezing the hand of the student to your right. When they feel his or her left hand being squeezed, the student “passes the heartbeat” by then squeezing his or her right hand. Record how long it takes to get the beat completely around the circle. After you’ve done this once with students ask them what they will have to do to get the heart beat passed even faster (again using general terms to describe what needs to change - “Some of us need to pay closer attention,” “Be ready to pass the heartbeat,” “Squeeze gently,” etc.).
Additional Context: You can explain the parallels between this activity and the circulatory system (the heart pumping blood and oxygen throughout the body). You could also explain how the heartbeat symbolizes the new school year and the need to support and learn from each other. The activity can serve as a measurement of improvement over time as well. Record the first day’s best time and come back to it a few days later to see if the class can establish an improved time.
Begin a running dialogue with your students through journal writing. Discuss students’ outside activities, interests, hobbies, favorite subjects, school activities they enjoy, lessons they did or did not enjoy, books they are reading, movies they like, and more. Additionally, you can check in with students and provide follow up around conflict resolutions from class meetings. Interactive Journals can also be facilitated as a daily writing station in the primary grades, once a week with intermediate students, or with select students at the secondary level.
Please feel free to share any successes, questions, or comments you may have about the strategies listed above. I would also love to hear modifications you’ve made or strategies you routinely use to build community with your own students. Most of all, have a wonderful school year!
A positive classroom climate is essential for any learning environment. Students need to feel safe, connected, and respected in order to succeed academically and socially. Teacher to student and student to student relationships are essential. Predictable routines, clear expectations, student engagement, and high interest lessons are also fundamental to a positive learning space. What, however, is a teacher to do when a students’ behavior interferes with teaching and learning?
One of the most underutilized and effective strategies to use when students interfere with teaching and learning, in my opinion, is a Behavior Reflection. Reflections ultimately support a dialogue between the teacher and the student that can lead to previously unknown challenges or new ways of thinking about how a student might manage their emotions. Behavior Reflections can help us develop strategies for dealing with challenging classwork or difficult student relationships.*
Many educators have expressed to me that they have used Behavior Reflections but they don’t work and are a waste of time. If you fall into this camp, here are some mistakes that you might be making.
Additionally, there are a few considerations for you and your school site:
Ultimately, the Behavior Reflection is a means to begin a dialogue about what the student might need, strengthen your relationship with your students, maintain your authority, re-establish the sanctity of your learning space, and continue to fulfil the promise innate in all young people.
5 Simple strategies for resolving conflict in your classroom
Teachers I meet say that classroom management is one of their greatest concerns. So, what is an effective way to manage conflict between students in a classroom? I found that teaching students simple, consistent strategies - like the moves you would use in a game of chess - works best.
Each morning, my class began with a brief reflection of what happened the previous day, what to expect for the day ahead, and what to do when we encounter conflicts in class. This daily ritual set a positive tone for the day’s classroom interaction. And while we discussed what to do if we had conflict, we often used the example of chess as a metaphor. Chess allows students to think critically and strategically, and to ask, “How does this move affect me?” and “What can I do in this move that sets me up for success?” It is a nonthreatening way to consider conflict, and it made our classroom discussions much more meaningful.
My students learned that, while conflict is a natural part of interaction, it must be addressed in a thoughtful, methodical way. I explicitly taught them how to use and test each of the following conflict resolution moves:
Conflict is difficult, and students need our support. For more information about classroom management and conflict resolution, go to conditionsforlearning.com. We have compiled free, helpful tips and strategies for teachers based on real classroom experiences.
When I was 10, my dad asked me if I wanted to learn how to play chess. I asked, “Is it as easy as playing checkers?” “No,” he said. “No thank you”, I replied.
Many years later, I realized that I made a terrible mistake. A friend of mine had taught me how to play, and I immediately saw the beauty and strategic thinking embedded in the game.
In 1999, I started a chess club in my 6th grade classroom. Chess became not only a game that showcased my students’ critical thinking and problem solving abilities, but it also became a metaphor for a way to navigate conflict. Chess pieces move in different yet predictable ways. So do people.
“Conflict is natural. It’s all around us,” I would tell my students. “Think of a baby brother or sister that is learning to walk. They are constantly struggling against the forces of gravity. The battle begins from the moment we are born. We learn to overcome conflict of the natural world."
"Now think of the conflicts you have with other people. What if there was a game you could play that would help you with your disputes between friends, or brothers and sisters? Chess, my friends, is that game.”
The students were hooked.
Chess pieces move in distinct patterns. People also have patterns and tendencies.The goal is to help students recognize these patterns and choose which conflict strategy works best based on what the conflict is and who is involved. My students' ideas about conflict began to shift.
Seventeen years later, I’ve dusted of the chess sets and introduced the game to a new generation of students. Working with the amazing staff at Leataata Floyd Elementary School in Sacramento California, we have started our own chess club. Rain or shine, three days a week, students rush from lunch in the cafeteria to play chess in our club.
While the students simply enjoy their games, I have noticed the level of camaraderie and respect grow among them. Win or lose, each player thanks their opponent after every match, and they carry that positive community spirit back to their classrooms.
So pick up a few sets and give chess a try in your classroom.
Classrooms are complex ecosystems which are immune to quick fix mandates.
The narrow, yet very important focus of increasing student achievement must be expanded to include the conditions that affect the way in which classrooms operate. Critical to the success of schooling in urban settings is the emphasis on increasing the retention of teachers and reducing the numbers of student referrals and suspensions—two factors that plague the success of students in urban schools.
Many teachers who leave urban schools cite "lack of support" and "poor working conditions." Teacher attrition is further compounded by challenges related to student behavior. In fact, many educators in urban schools end their teaching careers within the first three to five years. As chronic teacher turnover rates persist, the underachievement and epidemic dropout levels of African American and Latino students will continue to escalate.
When examining the enrollment and suspension rates of students, one can clearly see the discrepancies relative to student behavior that exist with regard to some students:
Nationally, African American students make up 17 percent of the national enrollment but constitute 36 percent of suspensions and 32 percent of expulsions. Conversely, White students represent 59 percent of the population make up 44 percent of suspensions and expulsions.
These statistics clearly illustrate the essential need for a fundamental shift in our approach to supporting teachers and educating urban youth. A recent study conducted by the Center for Teacher Quality emphasizes this point:
81 percent of teachers stated that they became educators to "Make a difference for children and society." Additionally, 71 percent of educators cited "The desire to work with children or adolescents." 
Why do teachers, who are so passionate about making a difference in the lives of young people, demonstrate such arbitrary disciplinary practices and leave urban classrooms at such an alarming rate?
The enthusiasm for teaching becomes extinguished when educators encounter the day-to-day challenges of working in urban schools. To reverse this trend, we must provide extensive and lasting support for teachers in creating and sustaining classroom environments that promote students' academic and social development.
An emphasis must be placed on creating engaging, responsive, and inspiring classrooms where students are responsible, respectful, and have a vested interest in learning and working together. Urban schools truly have the potential to be what we all hope for, and what all children deserve, if we leverage the passion and commitment of teachers and broaden the scope of education for our youth.
Does your school focus on strategies that supports students' academic and social development? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.
Alliance For Excellent Education, Teacher Attrition: A Costly Loss to the Nation and to the States, 2005
Suspension and Expulsion At-A-Glance, UCLA, Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, Karen Hunter Quartz, 2006
A Possible Dream, Retaining California Teachers So All Students Learn, Ken Futernick, 2007