Cultivating a Caring Community

The first week of school is just around the corner for many students. Teachers, however, have been busy for many weeks...scouring pinterest, stalking Instagram, prepping, cleaning, and planning. Most of the teachers that I know have an ever expanding to-do list. However, here are four things to be sure are on your list as you plan for your new classroom of students.

There is power in building positive relationships. Research shows that positive relationships between students, between students and their teachers, and between the teacher and families can have a huge impact on student achievement. We are "hard wired" for social connection.

Here are four easy ways to plant the seeds for success...

1. Get to know each other. Plan activites so that your students can get to know each other individually. Morning Meeting is a great way to begin to build a sense of belonging and significance within your classroom. Read alouds can also be used to generate conversations and create common experiences. A wonderful book to read for students in grades K-4 is The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. This book can be used as a mentor text for young writers as they identify the important things about themselves and share them with their class. Getting to know each other is important regardless of the grade level (often teachers of older students may skip this step, however these students need the opportunity to get to know each other just as much as younger students). It is through knowing each other that we are able to grow our empathy muscles.

2. Explore and share their goals for the year. I loved to create a sense of excitement about the things we would learn with my class. Sharing pictures of field trips and examples of projects helped my students to anticipate the great learning that would happen together. I would have last year's students write a letter to an incoming student describing the things they enjoyed learning about the most. (If you don't happen to have these letters, you can easily write a letter to each student.) After sharing these with the class, I had them explore what they were excited about learning in the coming year. We created individual goals and shared these with the rest of the class. Doing this together, we formed a real understanding of each other and support for each other's learning.

3. Collaboratively create classroom guidelines. After sharing our goals, we began to discuss together how we would 'need our class to be' in order to achieve our goals. When students take part in creating the classroom guidelines they "own" them. There is a clear message that these are not my guidelines, they are our guidelines. They are necessary to support all the great learning we will accomplish this year.

4. Partner with families. Inviting families to share their goals for their children helped the students to see the partnership that would be present in the year to come between myself and their families. During the first week of school I would make sure to call each family. Although I was exhausted, I knew how important these phone calls would be in creating lasting partnerships with families. The phone call was brief and sounded something this: "Hi, this is Mrs. Kruse. I'm excited to have ___ in my class this year! What can you tell me about ___ that will help me to be a great teacher for him/her this year? The best way to contact me is through email. Please feel free to share your concerns as well as any great news about ____. What is the best way and best time to contact you? I'm looking forward to a great year!

When we take the time at the beginning of the year to intentionally cultivate a caring community, we build a strong foundation that will allow each student to grow and flourish both individually and as a community of learners that support and encourage each other. The effort and investment are worth it as so many behavior issues are diminished in this process. What are some things that you do to cultivate a caring community in the beginning of the school year?

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