I spent 37 years pouring my heart into my pre-K - 5th grade classrooms. Every single year I worked intently to build relationships with students, staff, and the community from day one of school. When relationships (connections) are created, there is more trust, more of a sense of safety, and a greater sense of belonging in the school. These relationships are foundational to the success of all students, teachers and, ultimately, our whole school.
Now that I am starting year two of retirement, reflecting on my practices, working and volunteering in different classrooms, I have observed ways teachers and staff work on creating these connections with students, and I continue to see the immense value it brings.
In a first grade classroom I am volunteering in, the teacher stands at the door in the morning to greet her students. Students choose how they would like to be greeted by pointing to one of these icons. The heart means a hug, the hand means a high five, the hands mean a handshake and the fist means a fist bump. Students also hear a cheerful “Good morning child’s name”. The students then put their things away and come to the rug for an all-school “DEAR” (Drop Everything and Read) time. By being greeted this way, the students know that they are first in the teacher’s mind each day. For some, this could be the only positive recognition and touch they receive from grown-ups. Our kids need this from us.
Another way teachers can build community and relationships with students are Morning Circles and Closing Circles. Every day when I was in my classroom, we started intentionally with “Tree Talk”. (The Tree Room was the name of my classroom). During “Tree Talk” the students passed around a stuffed tree and shared a short piece of news about themselves. Students shared news about what was going on in their families both positive and negative at times or what they were excited about. Family members who stayed for “Tree Talk” were also invited to share if they wished. Students who didn’t want to share could pass their turn. By sitting together in a circle and sharing information about ourselves, the students and family members learned about my life, I learned about what was going on in their lives and the students built connections with each other.
We exited intentionally each day with a Closing Circle where we “closed” the school day by marking the day off on our calendar and then doing shared reflective writing about our “Memory of the Day” - an event or events that happened in the school day that we could share with our families.
There are many ways to build connections with students. Greeting students at the door and using Morning Circles and Closing Circles help to connect one-on-one with each student. The students learn that their voices are valued, and their stories are important to each other and to the teacher. These connections create safety and make learning possible.
Kathy is beginning her second year of retirement by being a grandmother and volunteering in a friend's classroom. Kathy spent the last thirty-one years of her teaching career at Borton Magnet School in Tucson Unified School District first as a classroom teacher and then the Instructional Coach supporting Project-Based Learning at the same school.