Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Relationships First, Everything Else Second

“We may not get to decide which kids to serve, but we do get to decide the kind of climate in which we want to serve them” - Jimmy Casas

Each fall, educators spend the first 30 days of each school year getting to know their new students. Team building activities, interest surveys, and partner learning are fun and help us better understand the lives of our mini humans. Beyond those first 30 days, as we all know, life in a school gets busy and we tend to focus more on curriculum and content than on enhancing the relationships we have started with our students.
I have always been interested in promoting a strong culture and positive interactions with the kids in my classroom. I have wondered how we could bring the excitement and happiness of the first 30 days of school every day. How could that mindset affect the relationships I have with my students, they have with one another, and their interactions with others in the school?
One way that I have incorporated consistent relationship building into my classroom starts at 8:30 am each morning. Soft starts are nothing new. Harvey “Smokey” Daniels dedicates a chapter to them in his wonderful book, The Curious Classroom. A calming music playlist greets the children at our door and so do I - greeting everyone by name and with our “secret handshake” that we developed at our open house in August. They come in ready to stretch their brain or prepare it for a day of learning.
Once our morning jobs and procedures are complete, my kids have some voice and choice in how they spend the first 10-15 minutes of their school day. These choice activities give us time to connect with friends, share stories, get work help from a friend, settle in, expand our creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills and get ready for the day! We work together to change many choices monthly (but not the procedures of our morning choices) to keep interest high.
The best part? After MY morning procedures are complete (So the office does not need to *gently* remind me to take attendance!), I get to join in! While kids are coloring together or completing a puzzle or writing a story, I can work on an activity while we have conversations about our busy and important lives.

Creating relationships involves “creating an environment where the students get to know one another. Only by intentionally taking time to invest in activities that allow students to regularly interact with one another can we ever achieve the classroom culture of excellence we all aspire to attain: An atmosphere where all students understand, appreciate, respect, and empathize with one another.”      - Jimmy Casas

When my students are able to spend the start of their morning collaborating with their friends and teacher, our other interactions throughout the day are more positive and focused. There is genuine care and concern when “our class is not complete” (in 3rd grade words...that means someone is away from school that day). Their attention is sincere when their friends share stories later at Morning Meeting. If someone needs help, they know they can confidently ask 21 people for guidance. If we need help being assertive with a situation (because we are all human and things happen…), we feel secure in knowing our friends will listen to our words and respect our needs better moving forward.
In his book, Culturize, Jimmy Casas repeatedly shares how important it is for people to model and focus on what you want more of. If I want our classroom to be a welcoming and caring and safe place to be, then I need to make time in our day to model and focus on welcoming and caring interaction opportunities with my students. Then it is the kids’ turn to model and engage in welcoming and caring interactions with the many other people they interact with during their day. And it all begins again the next day...

Q1: What is the morning routine like in your classroom or school?
Q2: How do you encourage and maintain positive relationships with students throughout the year?
Q3: How does your classroom or school promote a positive culture in the first 30 days? Throughout the school year?
Q4: What are fun and unique ways that you or your school encourage positive (adult to adult - adult to student - student to student) interactions?

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