Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Letters to New English Teachers Post #3-- Beginning of the Year Relationships

Today we will be focusing on building relationships with your students.  If you missed section one of letter 3 "PROCEDURES," you can find that post here.  

2.  Building Relationships
In addition to setting strong limits, teaching procedures, and having rules and consequences (see section one), you need to build rapport with your students.  Your classroom should be one that they are excited to come to, both because you have high standards for what they will be learning AND because you care about them.  The beginning of the year is your first opportunity to get to know the students, and by investing some effort from the start, they will know that you care about them.

My first recommendation is to start by writing an introduction letter to your new students.  This can be a little bit more challenging depending on how many students you have, but ideally, you will mail this letter home to the student before the start of the school year.  In this letter, tell the students a little bit about yourself and your plans for the school year.  It doesn't hurt to show the students how excited you are to start the school year with them.  Your excitement will start to build their excitement.

When the students arrive on the first day of school, you have a few important jobs.  First, make sure that you are on hall duty.  Every time there are students in the halls, you should be too.  Say hello to the students, introduce yourself, shake hands or high five the students.  You can already be getting to know your students during these informal times.  Ask about their interests or what they did over the summer.  Show them that you care!  When students begin to enter your classroom, remember from post number one that you should have clear work expectations.  They need to be put to work immediately with "bell work."  This is the trickiest part because you are juggling between getting the students who are in your room off to a productive start (while showing them that how they behave matters), and continuing to "work the hallway and build those relationships."  [I would just like to note that being over planned for the first day will help you to have the confidence necessary to be in the hall and not in your classroom.  And you can also straddle the doorway to help you "be" in both places.]

In considering first day (and week) activities, I personally put priority on teaching procedures and routines.  With that being said, I think there are always opportunities for getting to know your students.  This past year, the bell ringer on the first day of school was a drawing activity.  It included the choice for the students to draw whatever they wanted and then they were tasked with writing a little blurb explaining what they drew.  When the timer rang, we spent a little more time on the bell ringer by sharing our drawings.  This showed the students that I cared about hearing from them.   Plus, many of the drawings related to who the students are, so it was multifunctional.  Here's what it looked like.

As the first week continues, I would recommend that you continue to do little activities that have multiple functions.  Get to know the students (and help them to get to know one another) while also getting to know their skill levels and letting them have fun and express themselves.  Another quick activity that I enjoy doing in the first week of school is the signature scavenger hunt.  There are many versions of this online, but here is a small clip of my version.  

In the next section of this letter I will be talking more specifically about getting to know your students academically and setting the stage for your high work expectations.  However, if you work to get to know your students in the first days and weeks of the school year, your life (and theirs) will be much more enjoyable.  I would also recommend that you continue to get to know the students and show them that you care about them all throughout the year.  This could involve bringing movement into the classroom with a scavenger hunt or a four corners multiple choice activity.  In the four corners activity you put up signs in the four corners of the room, one for A, B, C, and D.  During this activity I like to have the students answer the questions on paper first, that way they don't just follow their friends around the room.  Then during review of the questions, you read each question and students physically go to the corner that stands for the letter choice of their answer.  It gets them moving and having fun while still doing review.  Or you could play the online game Kahoot.  This game requires students to have a device (either one per person or one per team).  There are many, many on the website that other teachers have already created.  You can easily find and edit one of those OR you can make your own (which is super easy).  This online game basically becomes an every student response system, and in my experience, works best with multiple choice questions as well.  A final tip is to incorporate music into your classroom.  This could be using music to help you teach lessons or playing classical music in the background.  MSKCPotter talks about both of those things.  She has great references in her TPT store for using video and music clips in the classroom.  Check that out here.  She also recently wrote a blog post about playing classical versions of pop songs that you can read here.  I have also had great success with this technique of background music, and I usually use the Pandora station "Classical Music Medley" for my tunes.  A final thought is that if you have a few extra minutes of class, you can play a fun song for the students.  I like to take requests (clean songs only, of course).  This is like a reward if they have worked really hard during the lesson, and we end up with a little bit of extra time, and it is a nice way to send them out.  One note of warning, though, is to make sure that you have wrapped up your lesson.  This should never replace part of your lesson.  The learning objective most definitely comes first.  

One last reference that I want to give you is on the blog Smart Classroom Management by Michael Linsin.  He wrote a post all about building rapport on the first day of school.  His main words of advice are to greet, smile, share, laugh, and promise.  Read his original post here.  

This post has a lot of ideas for things that you can start doing right now, so happy planning, and as always shout out with any questions or comments!  

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