Can’t we all just get along?
Sometimes a class will just “click” on day one and you won’t have to spend too much time developing a sense of community with your students. This has yet to happen for me or anyone I know. It is easy, especially with all the pressure of new standards, to breeze through or even do away with this important first step of the year. I can’t stress enough how critical it is do something to create cohesion amongst your students from day one. It may just be the most important thing you do. Think back to your learning theory class, remember Maslow’s hierarchy? Feeling safe and included is a necessary foundation for learning.
There are so many great books and programs out there to choose from. I tend to pick and choose from several, but the one I keep coming back to is Tribes. It’s not just a philosophy, it is a treasure trove of useful lesson plans and resources. If you buy just one book about community building, I’d start here.
Embed it into your instruction and daily routine
I like Tribes because the “agreements” apply to every possible situation. Attentive listening, no put-downs, mutual respect, pretty basic stuff. If you review what each of these looks like, sounds like, and feels like regularly, it will be easier to discuss what went wrong when problems arise. At the very least you can do a community circle each day.
Take a look, it’s in a book
When I focus on social and emotional learning in the beginning of the year, I find it helpful to use great literature as a guide. These are some of the books I have used. Sometimes it’s a simple read-aloud, but I also love challenging groups of students to find the hidden lessons in each story. If you have older students, some of these might seem babyish, but I’ve used all of them with fifth graders successfully.
This is a great story about befriending those you may consider your enemy, and not judging people before you know them.
Yes, I know, Madonna. But it is a great story about how saying negative things about people cannot be undone.
A classic story about how physical differences don’t really matter.
Great for all ages (even adults). This book teaches kids about how they have the power to make someone feel better or worse.
A great book about dealing with bullies and put downs, helps if you have a tattle-prone bunch.
The wonderful thing about sharing all of these books with your class is that you develop a common language. It can open up a dialogue and help kids solve their own problems. After reading Simon’s Hook, I don’t have to explain to students how to respond if someone is pushing their buttons. I just say, “Oh no! You took the bait, just like Simon!” Sometimes they think I’m ridiculous, but they get the point and they remember some of the strategies Simon used in the book. The more books like this you read, the more characters they can turn to for advice. So, read, read, read! Let me know if you have any other great books to add to the list!