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September 12, 2013 Building Classroom Community By Kriscia Cabral
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Teachers have their preferences. There is always one classroom quality that we tend to favor more than others. For me, that quality is community building. I am a stickler for the "all or none." I believe every student is a part of our learning process and each one should be included in all aspects of our classroom day. I also believe that students should be models of good character and it is a teacher's job to reinforce that character when we can. Happily, I have found a number of activities that help do the job.

    Reflect and Goal Set

    At the beginning of the year, my students think about the goals they want to achieve and we create art pieces from those goals. I wanted to set this special artwork in a place where the kids could always see them and be reminded of their purpose for coming to school. It is a visual representation of what matters most to them. Here is the site where I found this wonderful art project.

    Morning Meetings

    Many of the morning meetings in my class start with a silly introduction or "share out" from students. If there is an opportunity for students to share with their peers and receive feedback, I take it. So I try to spark a conversation with a few and then the rest join in. They get especially excited when they share about something that catches everyone's attention. There are so many important elements of learning that take place in our discussions including the opportunity to reflect on what's been said.

    The kids love to wrap up the meeting with a quick game such as BopIt or Zoom. Here is a list of new activities we will try through out the year. We also use many of the activities found in The Morning Meeting by Roxann Kriete. This year, I loaded the names of all our activities into my random pick app. Waiting to see which one would be chosen became as much fun as the activity itself! While the activity is quick, I still throw in a learning lesson, usually having something to do with sportsmanship, teamwork, being prepared, and always something about good character. Reminders are ever so helpful.

    Compliment Like Crazy

    I try to compliment each student every time I see them and they learn from my example. Compliments just make you feel all happy, inside and out and it's an amazing thing to have enough confidence in yourself to make others feel good. One way I achieve this goal for myself is by writing notes on post-its. I deliver them at random times throughout the day when the kids aren't looking. I keep an on-going check off sheet to track who got a "hug" note and when. I treasure the smile it puts on their face.

    Fourth and fifth graders are quite shy when it comes to saying nice things about each other, which I find to be quite funny. When I taught second grade, giving each other compliments was a piece of cake. Now that the kids are older it's like pulling teeth. To put a spin on this concept, I use an activity I learned during my credential program from my instructor, Charlie Littrel. Called the Car Wash, kids write a compliment on a sticky note, fold it up, and load the bucket of their chosen "car." Students go around the tables and the buckets get filled with compliments. Each car (student) gets to pick five compliments to read and share with the class while demonstrating the appropriate response to the giver of the compliment. Please enjoy the Car Wash in action.

    Another favorite activity in the compliment category is the Web of Kindness. It starts with one student holding a ball of yarn who pays a compliment to another student. At the same time he or she quickly wraps the loose end of the yarn around his or her finger and then tosses the ball to the one who was complimented. This goes on until a web is created. It's really neat and creates a great visual of teamwork. I end the activity with the notion of no matter what grade or age you are, kindness sees no boundaries. It is something we all want and something we should all share with others.

    Community building for me is really just taking the time to connect with my students. I love to share stories with them about me as a person and not just a teacher. My students laugh because they can hardly imagine me as a mom. They relate to the stories and are thrilled to hear that they are not alone when it comes to life's ups and downs. Connecting with my students as individuals creates a positive learning environment. It creates a space they want to be in because they've built their confidence and gained my trust. I look at it in the same way I look at my job. If I wasn't enjoying it, I wouldn't be doing it. Shouldn't we do the same for our students?

    I would love to hear from you! What are your thoughts on community building? Do you have any activities you'd like to share?




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Susan Cheyney