Obviously, destroying your classroom community is not on any teacher’s list of to-dos. But, there are some big mistakes that can have a negative impact on your classroom, your relationship with students and their relationship with one another. One of the biggest mindset shifts we need to overcome is not having enough time to address our students’ social and emotional needs. The more proactive you are, the more time you will save in the long run. Yes, we need to teach content. But, content will be much more likely to stick if students enjoy being in our classroom, feel safe and happy.
Step #1: NOT explicitly teaching and practicing procedures, routines and expectations
Your students are coming to you from different backgrounds, experiences and previous expectations. Now that they have entered a new educational environment, you need to set the tone for how things will operate in your shared space. Most teachers know that starting the year reviewing routines and procedures is key, but it’s not enough to simply tell your students how you expect them to behave. It takes continuous effort and many opportunities for practice. It starts with knowing exactly what your expectations are.
Instead: Teach routines and procedures starting on day 1.
Model and practice them throughout the first 6 weeks of school and beyond as needed. It’s not just your classroom as the teacher, so it’s important students see the value and reasoning behind your procedures and routines. Use language that explains why you are expecting them to follow it. Invite them to discuss why these expectations are needed. For example:
- Pencil sharpening: “In our classroom, we sharpen pencils in the morning before we start math or in the afternoon after we pack up. If we are sharpening our pencils all day, how does that affect our learning?”
- Handing out materials: “When materials are passed out to your table group, the person whose desk it is placed on will take their paper/crayons/scissors and then pass it to the person next to them. This way, we aren’t all grabbing at once which could end up in someone being hurt or something broken.”
- Lining up: “In order to line up quickly without bumping into each other, I will call table numbers one at a time. What do you need to remember to do before you get into line?”
One tool that helps facilitate the conversation about expectations is Behavior Stories. In these fictional stories, each student makes some positive and some negative choices. Your students will love pointing out what the student is doing right (and wrong). It’s a great resource to reflect on behavior and how it impacts other people and learning.
Step #2: Punish your entire class for the behavior of one or some students
Giving a consequence to your entire class is a great way to destroy trust and frustrate your students. Kids are intuitive enough to know who is the cause of the punishment and they will begin to resent those students. Are there times when whole class consequences are necessary? Absolutely. But, I would try to avoid it as much as you can.
Instead: If a particular student is struggling to follow expectations, implement a behavior system specific to those needs. Utilize logical consequences for individual students. Promote positive behaviors with whole class and individual incentives.
One of my favorite ways to motivate positive behavior while building classroom comradery is through behavior incentive bulletins. You can read more about how I use these in my classroom here.
Step #3: Never incorporate community building activities.
You can’t build a classroom community without providing opportunities to work together in positive ways. Relationships within our classroom are essential. And it takes time and effort to grow.
Instead: Plan for team-building and other activities to work on growing classroom community
- Getting to know you activities
- STEM challenges
- Morning/Closing meetings
- Glow & Grow time
- Class games
- Conflict/resolution role playing
- Plentiful opportunities to work in different partnerships and groups (free student a/b)
Step #4: Don’t take any time to get to know your students beyond their academics.
Being a teacher is hard and there are a trillion things to remember to do and think about every single day. Meeting the academic needs of students is a high pressure job. But, you need to give yourself permission to put the academics aside and focus on getting to know your students. Learning about what they like, what motivates them and things they enjoy outside of school will make you a better teacher than any professional development or textbook can.
Instead: Include routines that provide the opportunity to learn more about your students.
- Weekend Journals (Grab a free copy here!)
- Stand outside your room in the morning to greet each student
- Interest surveys for parents and students
- Observe student behavior at recess and take notes
- Weekly sharing time during class meetings
I have made these 4 mistakes throughout my teaching career. As a new teacher, I was so overwhelmed by all the things, I didn’t take the time to get to know my students, facilitate their relationships with one another and enjoy their sweet personalities enough. Over time, I learned about what really matters–students need to feel safe and loved. The best year of teaching I ever had was the year where my classroom community was the strongest. Don’t feel like you have to do every single suggestion. Take one thing and implement it until it gets stale and then try another. You won’t regret it!