Start the year with a promise.

Make a promise to yourself and your students.

Start off  the year with a commitment to setting a positive school climate. Make it a part of your first day activities and integrate it into everything you do all year. Then consistently model what you expect from your students in all that you say and do.

At any grade level you can show students you care about them as individuals and as a group by sharing who you are as a person and asking them to share with you. Tell them what is important to you and what you appreciate and enjoy about teaching. Find out what is important to them in their personal lives and in school.

Talk about the roles students play in acts of bullying and explain the difference between tattling and reporting a genuine concern  they might have about themselves or something they see happening to another student. Let them know they can come to you if someone or something is bothering them, including  cyber-bullying.

In the elementary grades invest time in the first week to establish a positive classroom climate: brainstorm what it takes to get along and to be able to learn, and then develop the classroom rules together; write a simple code of conduct and have the students bring it home to share with their parents and guardians; give students the chance to share who they are through a personality box (*see below); create a violence continuum together that highlights the more subtle things children their age do to hurt each other.

In middle school, on the first day of class, take time with each section you teach to stress what you expect from them. Ask them what they expect from you, too. Create a violence continuum and deal with the issues of bullying and harassment right away. Make it clear that you care  about each of them, and that you will never tolerate them hurting each other emotionally or physically. Remind them that you are there if they need to talk.

In high school take time to establish your expectations for the year in each class and work to develop a rapport with your students. Have the students complete a violence continuum and define what a positive classroom climate looks like. Emphasize treating each other with care and respect – both you and your students. Tell them that no one should be the target of hurtful behavior, and that they can come to you with any problem or question, and you will take it seriously. Address hazing, provide cyber-bullying prevention tips, and state your policy about the use of social media in your classroom.

School administrators can apply these approaches when they communicate their expectations for positive social behavior and peaceful solutions to conflict  to their students, staff, and families. They should model what they expect as they interact with students in general and with those who are having problems, and with parents and staff.

What you do that first day will set the tone for the year and your follow through will establish a positive, safe classroom and school climate, and make school a better place for you and your students.

* A personality box is a collection of items that represent who you are as a unique individual. Students and their teachers fill a paper bag or shoe box (provide them in case students do not have access to one at home) with items that show what they like to do and what is important to them.  Then each gets the opportunity to share the collection with an appreciative audience – their teacher and classmates! Before sharing, teach proper audience behavior by asking students how they would like to be treated when it is their turn to present. This activity is especially beneficial to those children who are at the fringe of the classroom or school social structure; it is harder to victimize someone we know about and see as a real person with feelings. Personality boxes and similar activities go a long way in helping you set the emotionally and physically safe classroom climate your children deserve.

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Posted on August 19, 2011, in Ideas to try, Perspectives and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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