FOUNDATIONAL STRATEGY: BUILDING STRONG RELATIONSHIPS IN CLASSROOMS
Bullying and other forms of maltreatment are less likely to occur in classrooms with strong communities. When teachers model acceptance and explicitly teach their students that no one is left out and no one gets picked on, children feel safe being who they are. Also, when problems or disagreements arise, classrooms with strong communities respond better to these challenges.
With the push for higher achievement scores, some teachers may rush to get started without taking time to build relationships in the classroom. Teaching academics and managing behavior will not be as effective without a background context of a strong relationship. Have you ever tried to get someone who doesn’t like you to do something they don’t feel like doing? It isn’t likely to be effective yet with do it with children every day.
From the first day of school, with students of all ages, teachers need to use time to build community and get to know their students. Students also need support to get to know each other.
Teachers can build community by doing the following:
- Get to know each student including learning names as soon as possible and preferred nicknames
- Be proactive by knowing children’s individual needs for support by reading as much about them, if possible
- Spend time with children—even for short periods of time- to get to know children’s interests, preferences, families, etc.
- Journal with children regarding likes, dislikes, and shared interests
- Greet and dismiss children with warmth and kindness
- Hold class meetings to determine class climate and if there is any need for discussion of specific topics
- During class meetings and throughout the day and year, model effective problem solving with students
Build positive relationships among students by doing the following:
- Have peers interview each other on specific topics
- Have peers share personal objects, ideas, or other relevant information
- Teachers can use the information on relationships to demonstrate math concepts, etc (How many students like to play soccer? Is that more or less than the number who like ice cream?)
- Student matches-students can be assigned to find peers who have a particular characteristic and then get their signature. An example is attached. Teachers can modify this by including pictures for younger children and substituting appropriate content for older students (I have a job, etc.).
- Guess who? Students write down a fact about themselves, then give it to the teacher and students have to guess who it is. This can also be called what is special about me or unique facts about me.
- Fact and fiction. Students write one or two statements that are true about themselves and one that is false. Students guess, which is false. This could be adapted and called True or False.
Knowing Why and When to use them: There are a multitude of community building activities teachers can use for students of all ages and with professional colleagues. The important thing to stress is how important it is to use them often, especially during the beginning of the year, after breaks and when class community seems low. Community building is very important for children who are struggling and need to take risks to learn in a supportive environment.
Stormont, M., & Thomas, C. N. (in preparation). A general educators guide for working with students at risk for failure. Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, CA
Stormont, M. (2007). Fostering resilience in young children vulnerable for failure: Strategies for K-3. Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall: Columbus, OH.