Relationships, Routines, Culture, and Content

Sights and Sounds from the First Full Week of School: Relationships, Routines, Culture, and Content

The positive vibes from the opening of school carried through our first full week of school.   As I visited classrooms this week, I took note of examples of ways that teachers lay the foundation for a year of growth and challenge.

Relationships & Community Building

Establishing positive relationships and building community is a critical component of the first six weeks of school.  Drawing on the recommendations from our social-emotional learning programs (Responsive Classroom K-5 and Developmental Designs in Gr. 6-8), teachers plan activities and discussions that help students feel connected to their new classroom community.  For example:

  • 1F:  Identifying words that hurt and words that help.
  • 2GR:   Learning to make eye contact, shake hands and use classmates’ names while greeting each other during morning meeting.
  • 3H:   Writing about  “What I Am Good At…” and putting this writing on display in the classroom.
  • 4B (and many classrooms):  Identifying academic and social “Hope and Dreams” for the new school year.
  • 5RW Spanish:  Doing a scavenger hunt (en Español) to learn something about each other.
  • Gr. 8 Health: Beginning an “Identity Box” project.
  • Gr. 6-8 Advisory:  Gathering for advisory three times per week – beginning with greetings during a “circle of power and respect.”

Expectations and Routines

Another key component of the first six weeks of school is establishing expectations and routines to help the classroom and school run smoothly and safely.

  • KE:   Learning to make choices and share materials with classmates.
  • 1B PE:  Practicing keeping a safe space while doing locomotive and non-locomotive warm-ups
  • 1C:  Discussing and then completing an activity to identify “safe” and “not safe” behaviors
  • Cafeteria:  Establishing the routines for lining up from recess, entering the cafeteria and cleaning up, and lining up to return to class.
  • Gr. 6 and 7/8 Handbook Assemblies:  Vice Principal Laura Horst and I held two assemblies to review the rules and consequences in our handbook with our middle school students.

A Thinking Culture

This year, as part of our focus on habits of mind, we are giving special emphasis to establishing a thinking culture in classrooms during the first six weeks of school.  Ron Ritchhart, in his book Intellectual Character, challenges us to rethink how we use the first days of school to create what he calls “thought-full environments.”   He suggests this should include:

  • Jumping into big subject matter issues that provide opportunities for rich and powerful thinking
  • Modeling thinking by thinking out loud
  • Establishing the attitudes and the structures for interaction that will promote thinking.
  • Making thinking visible with artifacts in the classroom

A few early examples:

  • 2N   Engaging in a discussion about  “What is thinking?” and then organizing the ideas into a concept map.
  • Gr. 4-5 Learning Center:  Thinking about which tool to choose that will be most useful for learning multiplication facts.
  • 5E & 5N:  Clearing posted in the classroom:  “What are we learning” and “Why are we learning it.”
  • 6H Advisory:  Not just setting goals for the year, but also articulating “Why does it matter?” 

Meaningful Content

Another key element of the first weeks of school is to engage students right away in meaningful content.   For example:

  • 2G:  Discussing and identifying what scientists do
  • 3K:  Using an interactive website to begin a study of geography
  • 4W:  Sampling a plant buffet while learning the properties of different plants
  • 5W:  Reading and creating charts about New Spain and New France
  • Gr. 7 Comprehensive Learning Center:  Engaging in a small group discussion of a book to prepare for a discussion in English class.
  • Gr. 7 French:  Beginning the study of a new language by learning to differentiate the sounds in French from Spanish and participating in basic conversational exchanges.
  • 7-3:  Writing reflections about summer reading
  • Gr. 8 Science:  Reviewing how to calculate density of solid and liquids before applying this knowledge to finding the density of a gas

The year ahead promises to be rich with relationships, thinking and learning! 

Rick Rogers

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