It’s time to welcome students back-to-school! This time of year has many educators asking how they can better connect and engage with their students.
Student engagement and connection is considered a priority as the early weeks of school set the foundation for student-student and student-teacher trust and respect that will endure through some of the potential academic and social-emotional challenges presented in the upcoming school year.
As educators revisit their plans for the school year, practices that provide opportunity for jump starting classroom connection includes:
Daily feelings or mood “check-ins” have become commonplace in most modern classrooms. Check-ins assist with gauging students’ mood and readiness to learn, as well as building insight, awareness and communication skills. Many of these check-ins focus on the students’ current mood state and occasionally will explore potential strategies for coping with uncomfortable feelings.
However, providing fun and creative check-ins as part of a morning classroom routine can have an added benefit of communicating personal boundaries and needs. Activities, such as My Bubble or My Weather Report can be engaging for students of all ages. Furthermore, follow-up questions and peer inquiry can assist with building empathy and understanding, which are key components of connection.
Morning meetings are a long-standing best practice routine which builds predictability, structure, and a sense of belonging for students. Morning meetings can also contribute to building connections. Through the use of open-ended questions, students can begin to build rapport with their classroom adults and peers during the morning meeting time.
Incorporating a “Question of the Day” component to your routine will encourage confidence in each student who decides to share and also fast-tracks familiarity and understanding between students. Begin with shallow-level questions, such as, “What’s your favorite snack?” and move into more deep-ended questions, such as “Who inspires you to be a better person?” as the year progresses.
A strategy to increase student ownership in the process of morning meetings is to encourage students to suggest topics, prompts, or questions reflecting what they would like to know about their peers.
Student engagement and connection is considered a priority as the early weeks of school set the foundation for student-student and student-teacher trust and respect…
Create a Classroom Mission
A company’s mission statement reflects the values of the company community as a whole. Because you are creating a community in your classroom, a mission statement can connect students through a common purpose. Some classrooms create a type of mission or value statement which is provided to students during the first week of school; however, since the mission statement reflects the classroom as a whole, it’s highly beneficial to incorporate your students in creating the statement together.
In addition to creating a mission statement, begin your day asking each student to create and share a daily or weekly commitment for how they will uphold the classroom values. Some classrooms even choose to create a classroom commitment followed by the class as a whole. Throughout the week, ask students to reflect on their progress in upholding their commitment.This not only assists with empowering students and increasing accountability, but it will assist in establishing a sense of community connection in the classroom.
Defined Practices for Conflict Resolution
Once the excitement of a new school year wears off, it is natural that our classroom communities will experience conflict just like any community. It is important to normalize disagreement while establishing a clear structure for addressing conflict.
Practices such as classroom circles can provide a structure for addressing conflict in a manner that builds mutual understanding, respect, andl human connection. If you do not practice restorative circles in your classroom, another option would be to provide time to discuss guidelines for respectful discourse and allow students the opportunity to contribute their ideas on expectations for conflict. Expectations and procedures around conflict and disagreement should be visually posted in the classroom, so adults and students can revisit these expectations as needed.
Conflict resolution processes should focus on the issue instead of the person. Practices which encourage clear communication, respectful discourse, and social awareness, include the use of “I-statements,” active listening, and stating requests clearly can be incorporated into the conflict resolution process allowing students the opportunity to gain consensus and repair their connection.
All classroom practices are better and more inclusive when we incorporate student voice.
Engage Student Voice
All classroom practices are better and more inclusive when we incorporate student voice. As you engage students in activities with a focus on connection, it is important to lay the foundation of ownership and community. Encouraging student voice and contribution to classroom rules, expectations, and routines can help build that foundation. When students believe the classroom is a place where their voice and identity are valued, they will feel more connected to their peers and their teacher.
Throughout the school year, student feedback and check-ins are a great tool to assess the value of your chosen activities as well as adjust your current practices to further meet the needs of your students.
Whether you’re a Pinterest Pro or prefer a streamlined minimalist classroom, the most important factor is not what you have, but that you are there and present for your students. Focusing too much on “new,” “exciting” and “fun” for students can leave you feeling exhausted and, quite frankly, not excited for fun. Authentically engaging your classroom, in a manner that shows you genuinely care about each student, will encourage deeper classroom connections. Instead of facilitating meaningful interactions, become a participant in meaningful interactions. By modeling respect, humility, accountability, openness, and honesty, you will provide the nutrients for classroom connections to grow.
As we embark on another school year, I hope you find the right practices to foster classroom connections that contribute to your classroom community!