by Erin Frankel, author of the Weird series
For many students, a new school year brings a mixed bag of emotions. While looking forward to new experiences, students are also nervous about new classrooms, new teachers, and the prospect of making new friends. And for students who have been involved in bullying, going back to school means extra worry. What if things are the same as last year? What if things don’t get better? For students who have had a difficult school year, summer often provides the space to disconnect. Setting the stage for kindness in the classroom during the first days and weeks of school will give students the safe space they need to build connections with other students. It will help them look forward to, rather than worry about, the school year ahead of them. Try this activity to help students get off to a kind start.
Our KIND of Classroom
Rather than “going over” classroom rules at the beginning of the year, try brainstorming expectations for classroom behavior together with students. Reflecting upon and discussing expectations with students will help them see that they are key players in creating the type of classroom that they desire. The type of school year they have depends on the choices each and every one of them will make. A kind classroom where students feel safe and supported is the best kind for learning, so why not pose that very question to students. What kind of classroom would you like to have?
Label a poster or classroom display: Our KIND of Classroom. Ask students what type of behavior they would expect to find in a kind classroom. Students are likely to come up with a list of traditional classroom rules that start with NO. For example: “No talking when someone else is talking.” “No pushing and shoving in line.” Encourage students to consider what they can do as an alternative to all of the things that they can’t do. Prompting students will help them come up with alternatives. “So, if we don’t talk when someone else is talking, what are we doing?” You’ll be amazed to see how No talking becomes Listening, and No pushing becomes Respecting. Exploring alternative words together will help students build a working kind behavior vocabulary, which will define your classroom throughout the school year. Students will enjoy decorating their Our KIND of Classroom poster or display with the can do words they’ve come up with. Younger students can draw images that represent the words while older students might have fun bringing in collage pictures.
You have now set the stage for the kind of classroom you would like to have. You have discussed and created a list of behaviors that show kindness and respect. Point out that more words and images can be added to the poster or display throughout the school year. Just as we check in with students to make sure that they are learning subject matter material, checking in to make sure that they are making kind choices is essential. You can encourage students to make kind choices: Is there a kind choice that you could make in this situation? Point out examples of kind choices when you see them: I noticed you made a really kind choice today. And when behavior falls short of expectations, ask students to reflect on whether or not they made kind choices: Do you think you made kind choices?
Look for ways to make kind choices as a class as well, and spread that kindness throughout the school and community! Students will enjoy seeing how kindness grows.
How will you set the stage for kindness this school year?
Erin Frankel has an M.A. in English education and is passionate about teaching and writing. She taught ESL in Alabama before moving to Madrid, Spain, with her husband and three daughters. Erin knows firsthand what it feels like to be bullied, and she hopes her stories will help bring smiles back to children who have been involved in bullying.
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