Setting the tone and building relationships at the start of the school year

It’s amusing, and should probably come as no surprise, that I started this blog thinking I wouldn’t have anything to talk about. However, after reading through the new math blogger initiative posts today, I now have a list of 6-7 things I’d like to write about. Woo hoo!

So the question of the moment is, what do I write about first? Considering a lot of the posts I read today were about the start of school, I thought it would be timely to write about my own experiences and thoughts about the beginning of the school year.

Two recurring topics that stood out to me were setting the right tone and building relationships with students. I couldn’t agree more with how important these two tasks are, especially at the start of the school year.

I doubt it’s a magic bullet, but I had a lot of success with a community building program called Tribes. After a quick look at their Web site, I can tell they have more “stuff” these days that you can buy to implement/support the program, but honestly you’ll be set if you can get your hands on their book, which you can probably find used at a local store or on the internet.

(Although if it’s available in your area, I highly recommend the training. They don’t just teach you about the program, the entire training is structured so that it actually takes everyone through the phases of the program. You end the few days with new knowledge and new friends.)

The book is great because even if you don’t have time to read it all, just flip to the back. There is a huge section of easy to implement activities that I was able to use on their own or embedded in a content lesson to help students build positive relationships with me and each other.

A key component of all of these activities is reflection, although this applies to teaching in general, not just Tribes activities. How often did my students finish an activity and then move on to the next without stopping to think about what just happened?

  • Did I learn something? What was it?
  • Did I get in an argument with someone? How did I handle it?
  • What did I like about this activity? What did I dislike?

More importantly, how often did I stop the class to reflect during the lesson? If the students were in the middle of group work and I observed several groups goofing off or arguing, I learned to tell the class to freeze. I would ask them to rewind the past few minutes in their minds. What were they hearing? Seeing? Feeling? I told them to compare this to what should have been going on in the classroom. Then we brainstormed suggestions about how the activity could continue, but this time in line with expectations.

The beginning of the year was always a great time to reflect constantly with the students. It set the tone for the year. I didn’t just tell them my expectations, we worked on reaching them together. At first it felt like it was taking too much time or slowing things down, but reflecting back, I feel like it paid off in the long run.

Now I’m going to go off and be jealous of all of you who are getting to know your new students over the next few weeks. Before I go, here are some questions you can think about:

  • Have you used Tribes or some other community building programs? What were your experiences? What worked and what didn’t?
  • What do you do at the beginning of the year to set the tone and build relationships with your students?
  • Now that your first day of the school year is over (if it’s over) what would you do differently?

2 thoughts on “Setting the tone and building relationships at the start of the school year

  1. bstockus

    It reminds me of a parenting style I’ve been reading about in a book called The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis. Instead of reprimanding and punishing, you point out that the behavior is not acceptable, but give the child a chance to do the behavior correctly. That way they actually get experience modeling the behavior you wanted. If I stop the activity whenever my students goof off or argue during a group task, but I never require them to show me what their behavior should look like when they work together, why would I expect them to ever become good at working in groups?


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