It’s funny…so much of an educator’s most important work literally has nothing to do with books. Think about it this way: We can teach our students to write a grammatically perfect sentence, but if that sentence and the writer behind it lack compassion, empathy and respect for others, it matters very little if the subject and the verb agree.
It’s easy to forget that kindness, respectful listening and general politeness are learned behaviors—behaviors we have to teach and model for our students if we are truly serious about creating a compassionate classroom where no bully can thrive. All teachers want this, but how do they accomplish it? We’ve been reading Naomi Drew’s book, No Kidding About Bullying, a practical, no-nonsense guide that offers readers 125 activities to help teachers collaborate with students to build a bully-free environment. We like her ideas so much that we’d like to share one of them with you:
Introducing the Concept of a “Get-Along” Classroom
This activity is an ideal one to start off the school year with, but you could also introduce it once students return from Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter break—or at any time during the year when you and your students need a “fresh start.”
The idea is to have students collaborate to identify qualities of a “get-along” classroom—that is, one that is safe, supportive and best suited for learning. Once your students have identified these qualities and everyone agrees to them, draft a get-along constitution, have each student sign it and display it in your classroom. This will be a useful teaching tool in the future: Rules won’t seem arbitrary to students, especially when you can remind them that they not only helped create the constitution, but they also agreed to it.
What you’ll need
Drew recommends that teachers purchase a soft globe, something that you can pass around or lightly toss without anyone getting hurt. Globes are a useful “talking object” you can pass around; they are also useful for reminding students that they are a part of the global community, that what they do impacts the world around them.
You’ll want to document and collaborate with your students to review their ideas, so you should have a white board or chalk board on hand. You’ll also need a large piece of poster board and perhaps an easel to display it. If you don’t have one, the tray on the chalk/white board will work just as well.
What you’ll do
Gather your students in a circle and ask each of them to say what their hope is for the rest of the school year. After each student has contributed, hold up the globe and remind them that their classroom is connected to the global community. Next, ask them, “What kind of world would you like to grow up in?” Write their responses on the board.
Next, ask them to close their eyes and take a minute to reflect on what kind of classroom they want to be a part of. Ask them, “What does it look like?” While your students are reflecting, draw a line down the center of the board to create two columns. Then write “Qualities of a Get-Along Classroom” at the top of one column. After a minute or two, toss one of your students the globe and ask her to share her reflections. Write these on the board. Now ask the student to say the name of one of her peers and lightly toss the ball. Continue this until each student has shared.
Now have your student look at the list they’ve compiled and ask them, “How can we make this possible? In other words, how do we create a get-along classroom?” Again, have them close their eyes and reflect on this. As they reflect, write “Our Agreements for the Get-Along Classroom” above the second column on the board. Repeat the activity by passing the globe around and documenting each student’s answer.
You may need to ask your students to be more specific. Don’t settle for generic responses like, “Be nicer to my peers.” Instead, prompt them to be more specific; ask them how they can be nicer to their peers.
Once you’ve compiled your students’ answers, rewrite them on the poster board and have each student sign it. Writing on the chalk/white board first will allow you and your students to further refine their constitution before committing it to paper.
Following up activities
To reinforce the qualities of a get-along classroom, draft a short letter to your students’ parents. In it, describe the activity and list all of the qualities the students came up with. Ask the parents to help remind their child of these qualities. You might even include a picture of the get-along constitution to help illustrate the point.
If you found this article helpful, check out our Bucket Filling guide where you'll find more creative ways to nurture kindness and respect in your students and your classroom!
I really like the idea of a "get-along classroom". On the first day of school I do a similar reflection activity where students create the rules for our classroom. They brainstorm with their table and we list them on a poster paper. Then, we take a vote of who agrees with the drafted rules, and once every student agrees, we all sign the class set of rules. I think it is very important to incorporate life-skills into learning, especially how to be a good citizen. I also like the idea of doing this as a refreasher activity for students as they return from a break or even just periodically throughout the year. Without an opportunity to reflect on these ideas, very few students will think about the concepts. Additionally, this activity would be very useful to tie to my safe learning environment conversation. What do we need to do as a community to make this a safe space?
Thanks for sharing!
I love what you're doing with your class. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and taking the time to reply to the post!
The idea of a "get-along classroom" is so important to have in the classroom!
At the beginning of the year, I always read the story "Chrysanthemum" with my classroom. I use this to start off by talking about how we should treat each other in the classroom. From there, I branch out and begin talking to students about what they feel are important things we should follow in our classroom. The start by talking to a partner about some things they feel are important. Then the students share out to the class. The students come up with the rules and they write them in positive ways. For instance, instead of saying "I will not run around the classroom," the rule will be "I will use my walking feet in the classroom." It is important for the students to look at the rules in a positive manner, so using positive wording makes a big difference.
Also, our first unit of study in social studies is about being a good citizen. During this time, we talk about rules and why they are important. We revisit the rules we came up with as a class, and talk about why they are important to have in the classroom. To extend this thinking, we think about rules and laws we have outside the classroom. This may be at home, in stores, or on the road. We discuss why we should follow the rules, and what happens when we do not.
I really like the idea of drafting a letter to the parents including the exact rules that the students came up with. This way, the parents may be able to remind students of the rules, or use the same language at home for the students to follow the rules there as well. It provides a consistency between parents/home and teacher/school.
I have heard of schools that have students use the "Fill My Bucket" activity. Students are read a story and they create their own little bucket. Throughout the year the may get drops of water to fill the bucket. Does anyone use this management strategy? How does it work with your students? What happens when their bucket is full?
Your students (and Meghan's, too) are lucky to have you as a teacher. I'm not familiar with Chrysanthemum. Is it this book?
Regarding Bucket filling: I haven't used this in my classroom, but many of my colleagues swear by it.
Do you have a blog? I don't know if you have any interest, but if you'd like to share some of your classroom experiences on ours, we'd love to have you as a guest. Check it out and see if you'd be interested.