I’m back to work a week early.  My school district asked me to coach our new social studies hires prior to the start of the school year.  We spent three days together talking about curriculum, classroom management, and building relationships in the classroom. In the next few posts, I’ll share some reflections on this experience.

Day 1

After listening to a series of speeches from various district officials, my team and I focused on the first days of school.  I asked the new hires to spend some quiet time envisioning what their class would “look like.”  When I say “look,” I was talking in a very broad sense.  We visualized not only the physical look of how we wanted our desks organized and what posters and signs we were going to hang on the walls, but also what we wanted for the intellectual and emotional “looks” of our classrooms as well.

While we had a lot of variety in the physical looks of our rooms, the whole team wanted classrooms filled with curriousity and a sense of emotional safety.  My next question was, “How are you going to achieve this sense of safety in your class?” That was a much more difficult question for the new hires.  Many of them defaulted into a discussion of rules that, when followed, would allow students to feel safe and secure.  “So,” I asked next, “How are you going to ensure that these rules are followed?”  The new teachers were stumped.

Quoting some sage advice that I still remember from my first days, I said, “Your kids won’t care what you know, until they know you care.”  Suddenly, the discussion left the realm of rules and launched into the more nuanced world of relationship building.  Now we were talking about great games we had played as young adults that allowed us to learn the names of everyone in the room, games that built trust between team members, and discussions that allowed us to really get to know one another.  My team decided that leading our students through similar experiences would do more for the safety of our classrooms than any list of rules ever could.

In this day of high-stakes accountability and curricular maps that ask teachers to impart thousands of hours of curriculum in a mere 180 days, it takes a courageous teacher to decide that the first week of school will be devoted to relationship building.  This is exactly my advice to teachers: Take the first week and do nothing but relationship building.  I promise you that the five hours spent here will be more than made up for by the increased curriculur time during the year that too often is wasted on enforcing classroom rules.

Here are three suggestions for games and discussions that build trust and relationships in the classroom:

Zoom.  Players are in a circle.  One player starts the car by saying, “Zoom!” to the person on her/his left.  This person passes the “Zoom!” to the person on his/her left until the “Zoom” is passed all the way around the circle.  Once the “Zoom!” makes the circuit, try passing it to the right.  Once the circle is proficient at passing the “Zoom,” add the brakes by putting out your right foot like you are stepping on the brake and saying “RRRRRRT!”  The brakes on the car not only stop the car, but also reverse the direction of travel.  See how long the group can keep the car going.

Bumpty-Bump-Bump.  Players are in a circle with one person in the middle of the circle.  The person in the center of the circle points to one player in the ring and says either, “Left!,” “Right!,” or “Bumpty-Bump-Bump!”  The player chosen must quickly say the name of the person to her/his left, right, or both, depending on the call.  Failure to correctly say the name means that the chosen player and the player in the center switch places.

1:1 interview.  Lots of teachers do this as a way to get students talking to one another. Most often, the interview covers simply,”Name, hobbies, brothers and sisters, etc.” Consider playing this game more than once during the first week. After students have done the basic interview, switch the question to something like: “Tell me a time when you had to make a difficult decision and you were proud or happy about the results”;  “Who to you admire and why?”; “Where are you going to be in five, ten, fifteen years?”

In the next post, I’ll share about our second day: Classroom management.  Until then, please share some other ideas of relationship-building techniques you use in your classroom.

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