I teach in an independent school for gifted children, preschool through 8th grade in suburban Chicago. I teach 4th grade, though I previously taught kindergarten. In addition to my degree in elementary education, I have two degree in music and play (French) horn. I play in several community groups including a band, an orchestra, and a horn choir. This summer I played an opera! I began doing design thinking/Creative Problem Solving with my students last year. I incorporated collaborative problem solving and improv into lessons. I blog about it at http://teachinglightning.blogspot.com/
Team members, The beginning of the school year has taken a toll on my participation in my team! I have written a draft prototype, using your ideas. If you are able, I would appreciate comments, corrections additions, etc. Prototype – Positive classroom community
Starting on the first day of school, the teacher includes getting-to-know-you activities, like partner biographies and interviews, sharing opportunities, like Me Bags and connections. These activities help the students in the class find out more about each other, find common interests, and see that every child is respected for who he or she is.
In the first weeks of school, the teacher integrates activities designed to create a community. These activities could come from sources such as Positive Discipline or the Responsive Classroom. One activity is for the class to brainstorm ideas to make this the best school year ever, then categorize these under bigger ideas, such as “help each other learn” and “have fun while learning.” Smaller groups work to list things to do and to say to help make these goals happen. Everyone signs off on the finished lists.
Once this is established, weekly class meetings begin. It is important to hold meetings every week, at the same time, and not wait for problems to appear to have a meeting. An agenda is available for anyone to add items for discussion at the meeting. Students take turns running the meeting. As a problem is discussed, first the student who wrote it explains what happened and says whether he/she wants a solution or just to talk about it. Other students can offer evidence and perspectives, then if a solution is the goal, students suggest different ways of solving the problem. Last, they need to reach a decision, either by consensus or a vote. The big idea is for students to take responsibility for tackling problems in their class community. Students will get better at this as the year goes on.
When adding issues to the agenda, it is most productive to have students name the people involved. Having a discussion about anonymous people does not help build responsibility or lead to solutions. In order to implement this, students must have guidelines ahead of time and practice speaking respectfully and kindly to everyone.
Other aspects of building the community include giving students chances to work in collaborative groups, to authentically help others in the world, and learning self-regulation.
Near the beginning of the school year, teachers teach the class about how the brain works and that when a person gets angry, the frontal cortex disengages and the “fight, flight, or freeze” part of the primitive brain kicks in. Next, the teacher demonstrates different calming techniques, possibly including centering breaths, body checks and other mindfulness activities. Once students recognize when they have gone into the fight, flight, freeze mode, they can use the mindfulness techniques they have learned. Oftentimes they will need a teacher to remind and guide them.
Many teachers use collaborative groups for various learning activities. They will work more productively once a positive class community begins to build.
Teachers and students together can brainstorm about service activities that go beyond donating money. Trick or Treat for UNICEF is ideal for children. Book drives, shoe drives, reading to youngsters at Head Start are examples of authentic service for young students.
Once the foundations of a positive class community are in place, students start to feel confident about taking risks in the classroom. They know that their peers won’t ridicule their ideas, but will encourage and offer suggestions. This leads to an environment where innovation can happen.
I completely agree! I like both having students share things about their own lives and having partners learn and then share about each other. Oftentimes one partner finds something interesting that the other partner never thought would be of interest to his/her peers.