I have been thinking a lot about classroom climate.  At a recent inservice I attended, there was a rather thought provoking question about classroom management that made me take a closer look at what I do with students.  The question was, “do you like to be “managed” in your job?  (me: no)  Why then, do we “manage” students?”

Kind of a big idea.  A completely different way of thinking about teaching and learning than what I was trained in.

I gave it some careful thought over the summer and decided that it was something that I would take a lot of time developing with my students (instead of telling them the “rules/routines” at the beginning of the year and expecting students to comply simply because I asked them).  I needed to allow my students to be in charge of themselves, to develop into productive individuals that contribute to a group.  To foster skills and knowledge that will serve them beyond my year with them.  We needed to start with a big idea, something great and then work together toward it.

So we started with a bit of a mystery to get the kids wondering…

When the class came in our first morning together, a wrapped box was sitting on the rocking chair.  They were very curious!  I told them that we would just have to wonder and wait until I read them a very special story:

I love this story.  In précis, the principal welcomes the students to school and asks each student to make a wish.  There is a school wide singing of “Happy School Year to us…” (to the tune of “Happy Birthday”).  It even touches on the different feelings that students experience returning to school, which I think helps to connect all students, not just the ones that are happy to be back at school.

I really hooked into the “making a wish for the school year” with the class as we read the story.  We paused and thought about what our wishes for the school year would be.  After we finished reading together, I had the class return to their seats and write down their wishes.

They were so serious when thinking about their wishes 🙂

After the students wrote down their wishes on coloured paper (in the shape of “think” bubbles) we returned to the gathering place and I read the wishes to the class.  They were just darling with each other and very positive and encouraging.  A bright spark asked about the present after we had shared all the wishes and I had to tell them that we would have to wait until after recess!

After the recess break the students were anxious to return to the gathering place and get into that wrapped box.  Well, what is a back to school party without a gift?

I told them it was a gift to the class and was for everyone.  We would take turns opening it, but it ultimately belongs to the whole class.  We used the “sticks of destiny!” (popcycle sticks in a shallow jar with each students’ name on it) to choose who would go first.

Inside the box were 5 glass balls.  (I love blown glass). I told them that they are dream keepers.  I asked a student to hold it and tell me what it was made of.  She answered “glass and it’s really breakable”.  I asked her what would happen if I dropped it on the floor.  She looked horrified and said, “it would smash to pieces.”  I told the class that dreams are just like these glass balls.  They need to be held carefully and that some dreams are really hard, if not impossible to put back together if they are hurt, made fun of, or stepped on.

We passed the glass balls around and the students were so careful.  I had no doubt in my mind that they would be careful and that none would be broken.

I asked the students to return to their desks again, but this time to write what their dreams for the future were.  It was absolutely silent in the room, and each student was focused and did his/her very best work.

Before we took a break for lunch we shared what the dreams were.  I told the class that now that we knew what each others’ dreams were, we were responsible to cherish those dreams and help each other along the way.

Next we developed the idea of how to help each other with our dreams.  How we would like our classroom to look and feel like so we could work toward our dreams.  I put two headings on the board; Respect Yourself, Respect Others (Thanks again for that Tweet, George) and we brainstormed together:

I was thrilled at the ideas that the students came up with.  Obviously we have been doing a good job as a school talking about these ideas.  The next step was to put the ideas into smaller phrases that the students could access easily:

From there we took the phrases and put them on the back bulletin boards and each student wrote the ideas that he/she contributed to the brainstorm and we put them under each category.  The neat thing is that it shows visually the areas that we could do more work on:

We will continue to work on these ideas in the coming weeks.  We have begun to build our class’ shared history, our group identity.  My room has morning sun, and each morning when I open the shutters there are comments about the glass balls and how beautiful they are.  Each morning I have said, “just like your dreams are beautiful!”

The big one will be to develop a “class dream”.  I am hoping it will be a service project, or creating something to make our world a better place.  I’m still working on that one.

We also worked on an art project to display our wishes for the school year and our dreams for the future.  We made aliens 🙂  (The students already think I am from Mars…wonder where they got that idea???)  🙂  I love all creatures that are different and unique.  I love how the students’ aliens reflect each students’ personality.  Here is some of our work in progress:

This has been such a gentle way to start the year.  I have allowed myself the time and mindset to connect with each student before making any requests of them.  I am allowing our group to evolve and the class to grow together.  An unintended result of the wishes and dreams writing is that I can also glean ideas for the daily 5 book bins.

I only wish I had brought in cupcakes on that first day!

What is your wish for the school year, and your dream for the  future?


Dreams — 4 Comments

  1. Oh, Diana!

    You are such an amazing teacher! Your students are so very fortunate to have you to share their dreams with. I love that!

    How did this gentle start to your year differ from that in previous years?

    Wouldn’t this be a great activity to do with staff as well – What is our dream for our students for this year – as an individual teacher and as a school?

    I’m so glad you are blogging, Diana. You have so much to offer everyone!

    I’m so grateful I have the opportunity to work with you.


    • Thanks for your kind words, Tia :). A big thank you to you for encouraging me to blog. You’re right, it really is fun, and now I have a record to look back on from year to year. It has been a great experience to have feedback from other educators, their ideas and opinions are so valuable!

      I feel like this year the pressure was different. It has changed completely from how I used to put pressure on myself to have the “perfect” class, (ie, compliance). The emphasis has shifted to developing the potential of each child and helping them to grow from where they are. Less push and pull between “training” the group and getting to know the individuals, more time and energy spent developing a culture of respect and understanding between everyone and leading them onto a path where each student is able to be his or her best because they are doing it for themselves, not to please the teacher. It’s very liberating and I am much more comfortable in my own skin. It feels right.

      Your idea of doing this with the staff might be something to start a staff meeting with perhaps?

      I am always thrilled to be working on anything with you, Tia. You are amazing at applying pressure and offering support. 🙂 thanks!

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