A New School Year, A New Perspective
The 2014-2015 school year came in like a flood…literally. My school’s entire first floor was flooded as the surrounding communities were during the great summer storm. My room is located on the 2nd floor, but because the gutters were so overwhelmed, the windows leaked and my room flooded too. Needless to say, I needed a new floor and was not able to get into my classroom for set up until Labor Day with the students coming the next day! Talk about stress and anxiety about going back to work. I was in a panic about my room, about my new kids, and even about my new principal. Once I tired myself out from all the worry, I realized that as much as I wanted to be the “in control of all things Mrs. Kraiza,” that is not always possible. And that is okay.
I took a step back to remind myself that cultivating student relationships is just as important, if not more important than sitting at my desk lesson planning curriculum. Here are some small, simple ways that I connect with my students all year long:
- Hall duty: I greet my students at the door every day and every hour.
- I have students sit at tables so I can easily wander the room and check in with them at various points in the lesson.
- I do not spend first days of school going over rules and expectations; we deal with each issue as it comes up by holding a class meeting and using students as models for what is expected. Students also model what not to do as well!
- We do icebreakers in class, such as line-up, two truths and a lie and anything else I can think of to get students talking and connecting with me and each other. There are hundreds of icebreakers to be found on the web, especially on places like Pinterest.
- When they write, I write. When they share their writing, I share my writing.
- I take pictures of the things we do in class and of the students. I also take the occassional selfies with students too! The good stuff, I post on my classroom website for kids to look at, as well as use them in video presentations to share with students, staff, and parents.
- I ask students questions about their day, their likes, their weekend, their mood, and anything else that seems important to them.
- I give hugs, high fives, and fist bumps.
- I am not afraid to make myself look silly or old-fashioned for the sake of connecting with my students. This is especially true when referring to cultural references and the newest “thing” the kids are into.
These relationship builders are everlasting, and the students remember the effort that I make to connect. It makes being with the students in my classroom fun and lively. This human connection makes both me and my students more committed to being at school. I don’t think we can survive the year without this crucial component.
The floor of my classroom was finally put in, the furniture arranged, and the posters put up. When the first day of school came and the kids entered my room, I saw that they looked to me, not the decorations in the room to set the tone for the year. We are in it to win it, and I will continue to build upon those oh-so-important relationships. Of course, I am frazzled playing catch up with planning, data teams, starting a classroom website, and a new sponsorship, etc. But I remind myself that I just need to let the new year flow over me as the rain waters flowed in and out of our building. It will all come together, but my relationship with my students will always come first.
Lisa Kraiza teachers eighth grade English Language Arts at Oak Park Preparatory Academy. She is also a member of the Core Leadership Team of the Oakland Writing Project.