Building a positive learning environment begins before the students arrive on the first day. There are many things to consider about your room as a community. Here are some tips to do at the beginning of the year to get a good foundation for building those relationships with your students.
Make your classroom inviting. It doesn’t have to be “Pinterest-worthy” but if you want to deck it out in a theme, YOU DO YOU! By inviting, I mean making it a room where the children feel they belong. Are their names on the bulletin board outside? Did you put a welcome message on the board? Think of those extra personal touches that really make the children think, “My teacher is glad that I am here.”
Send postcards home. If you are fortunate enough to get your class list well in advance, send a postcard home. It is time consuming, but it means so much to parents and students. I still have the very first postcard that my son received from his kindergarten teacher. We were so excited to begin school in our house, so that was such a treat to see in our mailbox. If you’re like me, and don’t get your class list until a few days before school begins, send postcards a 2-3 weeks after school starts. Just a quick note to tell them you’re glad you met them. Here are the ones I use from Amazon:
Introduce yourself on the first day. It sounds so simple, but my very first year of teaching (back in the stone-ages) I forgot to introduce myself to my students and tell them a little bit about myself. It was an embarrassing four days later when I realized they did not know my name and I was doomed to be “Teacher” until June. Now the first thing I say is “My name is Mrs. Hull, and I’m your first grade teacher. I’m going to learn a lot about you this year, and I want you to know some things about me. I have been teaching for twenty-one years. My husband’s name is Mr. Eric, and I have six kids, Katie, Alex, Meghan, Morgan, Ethan, and Gabby. I also have a golden retriever named Mollie. My favorite snack is popcorn, and once I pet a SHARK!”
Play an ice breaker game. Name games are the best. For a list of good ice breaker games for kids click here.
Teach classroom routines and procedures. Where do you want them to put their backpacks? Do you want them to put away their folders before they hang up their backpack? Where do they turn in papers? If you have bathrooms, what are your bathroom rules? How do they give you notes from home? Are they allowed to come up to your desk for questions or do you teach them signs for asking for help? These are the things you start teaching on the first day. Pick the ONE thing that is important to you with classroom routines and start with that. You’ll be teaching routines all year long, but it’s important to start off on the first day, rather than trying to teach habits they develop. (One year I forgot to teach them how to come to the carpet from their desks and it was chaos all year long but we don’t talk about that!)
Create classroom rules together. Think about what rules are important to you, and ask leading questions to have a conversation with your students. For example, I want my students to raise their hands when they want to speak. Instead of telling them, I’ll ask, “What would happen in our classroom if everyone answered a question at the same time? Could I hear the answer? What should we do instead?” Having ownership of the rules is more meaningful than teacher-led rules.
Happy community building, teacher friends!