Everyone wants to belong. As educators, we not only have the task of educating students, but also the responsibility of creating an environment that is inclusive of young people with different ethnic backgrounds, languages, values, socio-economic and academic levels.
When I moved to a new school in the late ‘90s, one of the first things my new principal told me was that there was a lot of racial tension at our school. Our school included African American, Hmong, Latino, Pacific Islander and White students. I was told that recent conflicts in the neighborhood created an atmosphere of distrust on our campus.
Project Showcases are one of my favorite events in schools. The showcase is the culmination of a unit where students learn deeply and present their understanding in a variety of interesting and creative ways. Families and community members get to listen, ask questions, encourage, and learn. I’ve seen hundreds of student presentations over the years, but there are a few presentations that, in my opinion, were extraordinary. The students described below were incredibly knowledgeable but it was the way they presented that made a lasting impression.
All I Heard Was Crickets
I was excited about the lesson I designed for my classroom observation. Students were going to make predictions about a text we were going to read as a whole class. What could be more exciting? I projected a covered image and slowly revealed partial images of the picture. Students were asked to make predictions about the picture.
My mentor walked into my classroom in the middle of the school year and asked, “What happened?” She was referring to the classroom climate that had clearly eroded. I was frustrated and angry about student behavior. She pointed out that my class was not the upbeat, positive place she witnessed in September.
Making students feel included and building community requires an unwavering commitment throughout the year. This blog post includes activities that promote a sense of belonging, and an emphasis on community building. The following are strategies and activities you can use to set the tone of respect and inclusion in your classroom this year.
A positive classroom climate is essential for any learning environment. Students need to feel safe, connected, and respected in order to succeed academically and socially. Teacher to student and student to student relationships are essential. Predictable routines, clear expectations, student engagement, and high interest lessons are also fundamental to an effective learning space. What, however, is a teacher to do when a students’ behavior interferes with teaching and learning?
Teachers I meet say that classroom management is one of their greatest concerns. So, what is an effective way to manage conflict between students in a classroom? I found that teaching students simple, consistent strategies – like the moves you would use in a game of chess – works best. It is a nonthreatening way to consider conflict, and it made our classroom discussions much more meaningful.
When I was 10, my dad asked me if I wanted to learn how to play chess. I asked, “Is it as easy as playing checkers?” “No,” he said. “No thank you”, I replied. Many years later, I realized that I made a terrible mistake. A friend of mine had taught me how to play, and I immediately saw the beauty and strategic thinking embedded in the game.
The narrow, yet very important focus of increasing student achievement must be expanded to include the conditions that affect the way in which classrooms operate. Critical to the success of schooling in urban settings is the emphasis on increasing the retention of teachers and reducing the numbers of student referrals and suspensions—two factors that plague the success of students in urban schools.