It is just about halfway through the school year (tomorrow, in fact), and I can honestly say I’m going to be very sad to see my classes go to make way for brand new groups next week. Change is always fun and exciting, but we have found a nice rhythm in each respective group, and I am making a point to note the fun moments when they happen.
Starting all over again for the new term sounds like it shouldn’t be as daunting as it is - we are already half of the way done with the year, my teacher bladder is in full swing (unlike the first weeks of the school year when I have to re-train my body), and I’m teaching the same things all over again.
But it’s just not that easy.
We are tired (*see above re: halfway through the year. Starting all over again doesn’t just mean starting back at the beginning of the curriculum calendar - it means learning a whole new set of names, learning needs, and personalities.
Starting over also means building community among these new groups with the sparkle and pizzaz of August, but with the energy level of January. (And that energy level goes for students just as much as adults!)
Rather than fighting the midyear malaise and trying to drudge my way through getting-to-know-you games (which I honestly despise on a good day, tbh), my plan is to build community in a way that feels organic to where we are at now…
Here are the 3 Fresh Ideas for Building Community I’m going to use in my classroom:
Challenges are a great way to build camaraderie and a sense of spirit in the classroom! They can be about creating daily habits (think of all the 21-day and 30-day challenges we see on Pinterest), or fun competitions. Depending on the amount of time you have, challenges can be as elaborate or simple as you wish, and can be either short-term (lasting only a few days to a couple weeks) or long-term (lasting months or even the whole term)!
Short-Term Challenges - These challenges can take one class period, a small amount of multiple class periods over a week, or anywhere in between! Team games and tournaments are a great way to add community-building and fun in short little spurts. Challenges tied to homework or quiz scores can be fun, too!
Ideas - Minute-to-Win-It Tournament Day/Week, Trivia Question Tournament Day/Week, March Madness Tournament (I’ve seen some cool poetry tournaments), Jeopardy Game, Guessing Game (guess how many M&M’s are in a jar, etc.)
Long-Term Challenge Ideas - These challenges are a bit harder to keep going if you lose steam, but they are the most satisfying at the end! I’ve done longer-term challenges to last a month (or the length of a full unit of study) or even a whole quarter.
Ideas - Movies (class to watch most movies from a certain list, etc.), Writing (daily habit of creative writing, journaling, etc.), Reading (class to read the greatest number of books, etc), Goal Setting (setting, planning, and charting academic and/or personal goals)
While a classroom newsletter is not for students, but rather for the adults in their life, it builds community by connecting school life to home life. For our colleagues who teach elementary school, this is no new concept. A classroom newsletter keeps parents/guardians informed about what is going on in class and at school so that they can support and prepare students at home. I get a newsletter each Friday from my son’s teacher letting us know what they are going to learn in the coming week, what the schedule looks like for their class, and anything we need to know about happening on campus.
Connecting parents/guardians to students in elementary school is easier because it is necessary - without adults, little ones won’t make it to school each day. Teenagers, on the other hand, have much more independence, and therefore that connection to home is often somewhat lost.
In order to bridge that gap a bit, bring parents/guardians back into the fold, and stave off some potential questions about due dates, my classroom newsletter is set to email out every 2 weeks.
Here are some things I’m keeping in mind to make sure my newsletter is consistent:
Keep it simple - just some bullet points regarding what you are learning, due dates, and important classroom announcements
Write them (roughly) ahead of time - set aside an hour, put your curriculum calendar out, and type up some rough lists of the topics you’re covering every couple weeks. Then, it is almost complete when it comes time to send!
Who doesn’t love to share the things they’re obsessing over or geeking out about?? Giving students a place to share their recommendations is a great way to bring their voices into the classroom space in a fresh and authentic way.
This could be a whiteboard where you change the recommendation you’re asking for regularly (one month movies, next month Starbucks order, next month podcast, etc.), an interactive bulletin board in the classroom, or even an online discussion thread you post regularly. The possibilities are virtually endless!
Here is what I’m doing in my classroom - it is an idea I came up with and prepped before school started, then put on the back burner because it all got away from me! Each month or so we will change out our recommendation cards to keep the ideas new!
As intimidating as it might feel to start all over again, or even just to get a hold on a classroom community that needs reigning-in, even the smallest effort still makes a bigger impact than we think!