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Want Your Best Ever Back to School? Focusing on Class Culture is the Key.

Building a positive class community and culture is crucial to not only having a great back to school but a great year with your class!

These 7 tips will help you create the classroom culture of your dreams.

1. Create expectations together.

Whoever said rules were made to be broken understood the minds of kids. 

Rather than laying down the law with your own teacher-generated list of rules that will inevitably get broken, have a class discussion to decide on expectations together

Questions like What do you need to be successful at school? help get students thinking and talking about expectations.

2. Start with a kindness challenge.

One of my favorite ways to start the school year is with a month-long kindness challenge. 

There are so many benefits for students…

  • Get clear examples of ways to be kind to one another they can practice all year
  • Feel connected to one another and good about themselves as they practice acts of kindness, building a positive classroom community
  • Reflect on how their actions impact others
  • Practice authentic writing through reflection prompts

Here’s how I do it in my classroom:

Each day we reveal a new kindness challenge. Some years I have a bulletin board up with each day’s challenge, but I’ve also created a daily slideshow to reveal challenges. They range from things to do for classmates to people in the school to family members at home.

When students have finished the challenge, they use their kindness journal to help them reflect on the experience in writing.

You could create your own challenges or use mine! You can get a week of kindness challenges for FREE here or get the entire month of challenges plus the bulletin board kit here!

3. Begin community circles.

I started doing community circles halfway through the school year and let me tell you it made a big difference! 

These are a great way to allow students to share about themselves, get to know one another, and establish a culture where you can talk about difficult topics

Start slow with low-risk questions like What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? and build up to bigger questions.

Set guidelines like everyone is invited to share but you can always pass, only the person with the talking piece can speak, and be respectful of everyone’s answers.

Starting with community circles from day one will make it so that when issues arise in the classroom, you can have honest, respectful conversations to work through them.

4. Set leadership teams.

Class jobs are really not my thing. I always forgot to rotate students’ jobs and they didn’t get to do the jobs they actually enjoyed for very long. 

So I made the switch to leadership teams a few years ago, and I’ve never looked back.

With leadership teams students take responsibility for one aspect of the classroom and they truly become the class leaders of that area.

In my class, we have:

  • Cleaning Crew
  • Library Leaders
  • Tech Team
  • Teacher’s Assistants
  • Transition Team
  • Organization Squad

Students learn what each team is responsible for and then apply to be on the team they are most interested in. 

With explicit team responsibilities, you can have conversations with students when they aren’t following through on those responsibilities.

Most of my students stay on the same leadership teams for the bulk of the school year, which means you never have to worry about switching student jobs again and they learn about being responsible leaders.

Want to save even more time? Snag my leadership team displays and applications here!

5. Provide strategies for when things get tough.

While back to school can sometimes feel like the honeymoon phase, we all know that difficult things lie ahead. It’s much better to talk with students now about strategies they can use when they aren’t feeling 100%.

Some of my favorite strategies are:

  • Having a large class puzzle out on a counter that students can add a couple pieces to when they need a few minutes away. (I started this last year and was shocked that we ended up finishing 5 huge puzzles!)
  • Setting up a calming corner with activities like breathing techniques, mazes, and meditations to help students cope with stress and anger.
  • Providing growth mindset statements like these for students to borrow whenever they need a mindset shift. (These are a must when we start learning long division!)

6.) Kick off the year with a great read aloud.

Get students passionate about reading from day one with a stellar chapter book. Some of my favorites to start the year in upper elementary are:

  • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
  • Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
  • Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

7.) Move slowly into curriculum through games.

It’s so easy to let the pressure to get started on curriculum get to you in those first days of school, but don’t let it!

We’ve all been there–jumping in too quickly just means reviewing procedures and expectations way more than is necessary.

So when you feel that pull to start curriculum but you know you should still be building your class community, turn to some standards-based games.

These Heads Up, 7 Up math games are perfect for introducing and practicing content while students get to have fun with each other.

And these basketball-themed Pass the Ball math games help students get to know each other as they work as a team.

How will you focus on class culture this year?

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