One thing I know for sure is that the job of “teacher” can be lonely. There’s so much to do, so many things to manage and most times we are alone in doing it. If you’re lucky to have a team you can lean on, you are just that, lucky. Many teachers don’t have that camaraderie between team members. I’ve been at a school I thought no one “got me.” To be honest, I still struggle with that feeling. It was heartbreaking to argue with teachers and stick up for kids in a way I thought was common sense. On our Office Hours community call last month, I realized it’s not just me that’s dealt with this.
So, how do we build positive relationships and a solid school climate in an effort to not feel so isolated? We start with an open mind. Now, I definitely have my know-it-all moments, and I never shy away from a challenge. But, the best way to be heard, is to hear.
Students and teachers crave authenticity. We desire validation and friendship. Teachers can find some of this online, but an Instagram feed is just a highlight reel. Vulnerability is a choice, and in order to tap into the power of connected creativity, we have to choose this. Teachers need to model this for students. Especially for students with trauma and behavioral needs. Teachers must create the community they desire for students.
I’ve listed out a few ideas to implement into your own classroom and environment that will help create that positive community where everyone feels valued.
We use a bingo reward system in my classroom (I looove the monthly boards from Teach Create Motivate!). A skill is chosen, for example respect, that students will practice while working toward a class reward. When a student uses respectful language by saying please or asking a peer to borrow something, they earn a bingo piece. Whichever teacher recognizes it, calls it out, the whole class freezes, and everyone says, “nice job, Nick!” The smile on the earner’s face is my favorite! They love being called out for something GOOD! The whole class rallies around this student, especially when it’s the winning piece. And before you object with, “I can’t stop the whole class” or “won’t they get too excited and won’t come back down?” You can do this and you should.
The students that never raise their hand with the correct answer, or the ones that don’t get a shoutout for being kind to others, need this. They need a small win. Even if you have to dig really dip to find that respectful language. I’m pretty sure I’ve given bingo pieces to kids for yelling, but not saying “F you.” So, you can definitely do this! :)
Find creative ways to build students up through their peers’ eyes. It’s the lowest cost, greatest reward for breeding a positive climate in your classroom.
One of the best ‘shocker’ moments in my classroom happens during the compliment section of morning meeting. We sit in a circle on the rug and give a compliment to the person to the right of us.
In the beginning, allow students to share easy compliments like, “I like the games you play at recess” or “you have a nice backpack.” As students gain more skill with this, you can challenge them to think about personality traits and the qualities they appreciate in others. All staff in our room during morning meeting are involved, as well. This supports us in modeling what genuine appreciation looks like and how it can make someone feel. I’ll be honest, when we first began this practice, I didn’t have high expectations. Yet, the students continued to shock us with their well-crafted compliments. Of course, there were some snags, and it is an extremely difficult skill for some, but it is still always worth it. We start our day with appreciating each other and that is something that builds community from the onset of your day.
Okay, great! What does it look like for staff?
Education and open dialogue!
The worst thing you can do to yourself and your students, is pretend you know it all. Even worse than this, is pretending your staff doesn’t need to know what you do. Empowering your staff: paras, support services, and co-teachers, allows them to show up for students from a genuine place. When people feel valued, they give value.
Value your Staff
I’m always shocked when I hear paras say they don’t have all of the information about a student’s background, IEP goals, or that they don’t feel comfortable asking questions. The success of a team is rooted in how comfortable each member feels sharing ideas and asking questions. Providing open communication and time slots for collaboration creates community. It is not just recommended, but imperative, for long term success. Time should be carved out weekly, at the least, to chat with team members, clarify plans, brainstorm ideas, and get to know each other. Don’t have time during the day? Have team members meet before or after school. Can’t because of hourly employees? Stagger them coming in half an hour late in order to stay half an hour later. Get creative. Your team is your greatest asset to reaching your goals. Include them and value what they have to say.
But what if my school/staff doesn’t share my values?
Been there, done that. It sucks. Working in an environment where you feel alone and at odds with everyone is no place to stay. Yet, some don’t have the luxury of leaving. If you’re one of these people, you have to find your tribe. This may mean looking for like-minded educators online. It may mean starting an after-school book club at your school for teachers to try finding common ground.
This is one of the reasons for our monthly Community Calls. There are so many teachers craving community and can’t find it within the walls of their schools. If you are one of these people, sign up for our next call. It’s a completely free, open call for all educators looking to connect, get creative, and find positivity in their practice. Sign up here to join our tribe!
Wherever you are in your teaching journey, remember community is continually built and tended to. Whether it be with colleagues, or students. Surround yourself with every positive light you can find and keep your mind open as you nurture your students.