The beginning of each school year is so exciting! Happy, excited faces of students and teachers and the feeling of something truly special about to begin. While teachers always feel the pressure of time passing quickly, assessments that need to be documented, and looming deadlines, it is important to remember to centre the student experience in the midst of it all. Spending the time to build a safe space and connect with one another sets the tone for the school year and helps students to feel safe and cared for at school.
Building A Safe Space
Set your classroom agreements together. While there are several different strategies that teachers use to set their classroom agreements, they all have something in common: co-creating the norms and rules that everyone needs to have a safe and brave learning space. It’s always important to allow students to share their opinions on what they need to feel safe, but also to allow for the flexibility to add or modify those agreements. Remember that agreements aren’t something to just put on the wall and forget about, those criteria are a working document that fits the needs of the students and the teacher to be successful together.
Icebreakers can be fun, but also intimidating for some students. Remember to start with low risk activities that everyone can enjoy. Opportunities to create space for safe and respectful conversations through games such as “Would You Rather?” or “Mingling to Music” are easy entry icebreakers that help all students participate at their comfort level and allow for educators to observe how students interact with one another as well as participate in the fun. This can also be time to model how respectful conversation and the classroom agreements can look in real time.
Getting to know you activities are great for the beginning of the year, but that might not be the only time they are used. Reflective activities, such as creating soundtracks that represent their lives or even word collages of who or what is important to them, may change as the year goes on and students learn more about themselves. Remember that as students feel safer at school, they may feel more comfortable sharing more about their lives. A great reason to revisit these types of activities throughout the year!
As routines settle and the class feels more comfortable, introducing deeper connection activities is a great way to continue building the classroom community together. Opportunities to explore and share more about our identities gives students the chance to really think about who they are. I love name story activities, identity maps, and even sharing goals and dreams together. Whenever I am involved in these activities with children, I always participate, model, and share my own stories. It changes the tone from an assignment from the teacher to building our classroom community. It also gives me some perspective of how some students might feel more vulnerable than others and how difficult it is to think about one’s own self.
The beginning of September is filled with joy and anticipation, but also can be busy with reorganization and disruptions. No matter when your ‘start’ date, it’s never too late to think about building the classroom community. Remember that building community and safe spaces takes time and intention – and it continues throughout the school year.