Build your Class Community: One Strategy

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“First things first!”  Build Relationships!!!!!!!

There are three facets of a classroom and school environment:

  • 1) the physical environment,
  • 2) the emotional environment, and,
  • 3) the academic environment.

Each facet must be intentionally designed and maintained throughout the school year. To establish a positive classroom climate, safe emotional environment, and to begin building community immediately requires deliberate, conscious planning and strategies.

Here’s a specific classroom strategy which can be done at any time, but is especially powerful to do first thing on the first day of school — and it’s one that you and your students may love!

“Take What You Need” Strategy

Gather your students into a circle. Try to gather on a large rug. If you don’t have a rug, the floor will do, or just arrange desks into a circle.

Don’t say anything, just take out a roll of toilet paper, tear off a length with about 10 squares, hand the roll of toilet paper to the student sitting next to you, and just say, “Take what you need.”

Of course, the students will be surprised/shocked. But don’t say anything. Let each student take as much or as little as they want, then pass it to the next student.

It’s possible that one or two students won’t take any because they aren’t sure just what this is about. You can explain to them what you’re doing. Say that for each square of toilet paper they have taken they will now share something about themselves with the class. This is a “getting to know you” activity.

No one is required to say anything. Demonstrate the type of information you’d like them to share by modeling — you go first. Give the students your first and last name; emphasizing that I am a person. So, for example, you might say . . .

[Tearing off Square 1]: My name is Rosemary Manges (I do not say Mrs. Manges).

[Tearing off Square 2]: I live in Dallas, Texas.

[Tearing off Square 3]: I have two children, all grown, and five grandchildren, ages 17 to 24.

[Tearing off Square 4]: I love to cook (and eat!). I especially like pizza (and fried chicken and mashed potatoes).

[Tearing off Square 5]: I used to live in Iowa, and my favorite thing about that (next to living near and spending time with some of my family) was watching the seasons come and go!

[Tearing off Square 6]: My husband and I have traveled but we especially  love to go to the University of Iowa football games.

[Tearing off Square 7]: During the past several years, I have become very interested in using technology in the classroom and designing learning to fit each child.

The point of  modeling this first is to prevent everyone from saying the least amount of information possible and to get them to provide information that provides the rest of us with insight to who they really are — really unique and specific information.

Usually, not only do we have one or two students who opt out, we usually also have one or two (I refer to them as the ‘funny guys”) who start rolling it out, and end up with a huge pile of toilet paper. This happens in workshops with teachers as well, and it’s always a big laugh for everyone when I tell them that for each square they have to tell us something about themselves. In short, it’s a lot of fun, and the best way I know to begin creating real community immediately.

After everyone has had their turn I explain to them that we are a team, a community, and that we are all there to support, teach and learn from each other. We build on this community every single day of the school year, first thing, every day.

Rosemary Manges

Rosemary Manges, Program Coordinator for Inclusive Services, has over 39 years of educational experience ranging from the public school classroom, administration, preparing pre-service teachers at the college level to development of policy at TEA. She is in her 10th year at Region 10.

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