Every school year is an opportunity for a new start for all teachers. Whether it is getting to know new students, new staff and teaching partners, or even a new classroom. This September I am experiencing all three, and after the first week of school I am just beginning to reflect on all the change. I am welcoming the renewed energy (after a very relaxing summer) and the challenges that teaching brings.
In the last week of August, I took the time to think about the classroom environment and what changes I could make to create an inviting and inclusive environment for the children and for me. Although it is a Grade one and two class, I want the students to have areas/learning centres that will encourage inquiry and collaboration. So, I started with a new layout that includes a reading corner, an art studio, and a math centre using cozy corners and spaces with shelving along the walls. Then I made two groups of six desks, one group of four desks, and added two round tables (I would have preferred round tables for all the students, but had to improvise with what was available). There is a place for individual book bins and pencil/materials trays for the students to access easily, so they don’t have to keep anything in their desks (allowing for flexible seating throughout the day). On the first day of school, I let the children sit wherever they want and place their “portable” name card at their desired spot. It was interesting to observe that all of the children, except one, kept the same seat all week!
Our first weeks together in Room 3 are important for creating an inclusive space and building our classroom community. We are learning about one another with Tribes activities, such as passing an inflatable globe and sharing “What’s important in my world?” Last week, we read the book One, by Kathryn Otoshi, which recognizes differences and encourages kindness and inclusion (already deemed a favourite by the kids). In their tribes, the children used watercolour paints to demonstrate their own feelings and connections to colour. These paintings are displayed in the classroom to remind us of our own similarities and differences. Otoshi’s book continued to inspire us through the week as we shared personal experiences about feelings at the carpet before writing about them in our Writing Workshop.
Despite a few hiccups for the grade ones learning new routines and adapting to a full day of school (a few tears at lunch time), I think the first week was a good first step for the new school year.