Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Back to School : Creating a Safe Environment

It's that wonderful time of "Back to School, " and today was day 6 with my Kindergarten class. It's quite amazing how quickly I am getting to know these little people, with all of their quirks and unique personalities. I actually feel like this year I am observing more and gaining valuable insight on how to reach and teach these curious, wide-eyed beings.
One of the most important goals in the beginning of the year is creating a safe and effective classroom climate. Everything I do is centered around helping kids feel comfortable, engaged, and able to conquer new challenges. This may seem easy, but trust me, with 22 five year olds ( some actually only four!) all wanting individual attention,
easy is not even in my vocabulary.
Here are some tips for making the environment calming, less threatening, and more engaging for all students:
1) Take pictures of students and put them up in the room as soon as possible. I used my digital camera on the first day, ( which even stopped some kids in their teary-eyed tracks when they saw I wanted to take their picture and show it to them on the little screen!) and on the second day, (after a quick trip to the local drugstore for 1 hour printing,) the students were so excited to see their pictures posted on a chart with their names.
2) Relax! Make sure you are giving off a calming, confident vibe. Students are like animals: they sense your fear or anxiety and many react to it! Make sure you are getting enough rest and are eating a healthy, fuel-filled diet to ensure consistent energy levels.
3) Use play to engage! On the first day, I spontaneously took one of my puppets, a white fluffy monkey with long dangly arms, and used the monkey to engage the students in reading the morning message. The students now ask each morning if they can "wake up the monkey" to help us read. Mr. Monkey loves to put my pointer in his mouth as he points to the words and as I look out at the delighted giggles of my class I can tell that this playful gesture lightens the mood and enhances attentiveness.
4) Review the rules frequently at the beginning of the school year. Take pictures of your students modeling how to follow the rules. My students love looking at themselves modeling the rules and I often see them looking at the rules just to see themselves. This is continuous positive reinforcement.
5) Praise students when they make big "efforts." For some students, especially those completely new to school, even writing their name is a huge effort.
6) Incorporate lots of movement to calm the wigglers and to get the oxygen going.
7) Use humor! According to researcher, Dr. Barbara Frederickson, the "Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions" confirms that inducing positive emotions such as joy, increases the brain's capacity to make new connections. It also helps individuals develop resources and skills that can later combat stress and depression. Other research has shown that by smiling purposefully one can induce a feeling of happiness.
8) Encourage students who struggle socially or academically to help with classroom jobs. One of my students who is the oldest of many siblings at home, struggles with writing her name. She is excellent at helping other students find their way to the office or knowing where to put things away.When she can be helpful and successful, her resistance to completing her academic tasks diminishes.
9) In the heat of these first weeks of school, make sure students are hydrated. Dehydration is a huge issue and leads to lethargy, inattention and other issues.
10) Have fun and delight in finding the strengths of your students. Each student possesses unique gifts to bring to the class. Let them know you are excited to help them discover these gifts.
And with those little tidbits I will close for now. Teachers are lucky to share in the gift of learning. I feel incredibly fortunate to spend my days with interested, hopeful little people who want to grow and learn together.

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