There is nothing – we repeat, nothing, more important to a successful school year than building safe relationships.
Safe relationships are essential between the adult(s) to students but also between students. If you do nothing else at the start of the school year, spend your energy on building safe relationships.
Consider this first-week-of-school guide to setting the stage for safe relationships.
Day One: All About Your Teacher
On the first day of school, give students the opportunity to get to know their teacher as someone who is there to help, guide, encourage and protect them. For many students, this is their first year in a structured school environment, either because they are entering school for the first time in the younger grades, or because of significant disruptions to learning over the past couple years. Letting students know the role of the teacher is essential to children’s sense of security in the classroom.
What should you tell students?
Create a slide or write on a whiteboard or chart paper the role of the teacher. Include things like:
Keep you safe
Listen to you
Be kind and care about you
Help you learn
In addition to this, give students some information about you. Again, make a slide or poster with photos or other details you want to share with students. Consider including:
A personal introduction
Something special about me
Something I love/ something that brings me joy
What I want my students to know about me
Give students the opportunity to ask questions. Be sure to limit the number of questions students can ask. You might say, “I have just enough time for three questions. What are you wondering about? What else would you like to know?”
Day Two: All About You
Remind students about your introduction as teacher and tell them that you’ll now be talking about their role as students. Create a slide or write on the whiteboard or chart paper the role of students. Examples include:
Come ready to learn
Listen to my teacher and each other
Ask for help when needed
Next, remind students about what you shared with the class about yourself. Tell them that you’d like to know all about them as well. Give each student an “All About Me” worksheet and ask them to complete it, either in class or at home with their families.
Collect these and read them privately. These are an opportunity for students to communicate directly with you and let you know details about their lives. Let students know that these will not be shared so they feel comfortable writing what they want to communicate.
Throughout the year, and especially throughout the first week, try to find a way to connect with each child over something they shared on their sheet. You may want to take a quick peek at a child’s sheet before a planned interaction, or you may pull students aside one at a time and go through the sheet together, asking them to tell you any additional details.
Day Three: All About Us
In addition to learning more about each student, you will want to create opportunities for students to learn about each other. This can be done by allowing students to share a little about themselves during whole group time. This may spread over more than one day, depending on the timing.
To plan for this, send each student home with a paper lunch bag with their name written on it. Ask students to put one item that is special to them inside the bag and return it the next day. Prepare your own bag as well. Set aside a large basket or box to collect the bags as students bring them in.
Introduce the sharing by reminding students about the previous introductions (you to them, and them to you via the worksheet.) Next, you’ll all want to get to know each other so that everyone is comfortable in the classroom every day. One way to get to know each other is through sharing about something special.
Create a process for sharing the items in the bags. Remember that this should be a pleasant experience, allowing students to get to know each other better. Students should feel valued when they share. To ensure this, select only a few students to share in one sitting. When students start to seem restless and inattentive, switch to a new activity and resume sharing later.
Have the student who is sharing hold up the item from their bag and talk about why it is special to them. He or she can walk around the circle holding it so that everyone gets a chance to see the item up close. Create a system for asking questions, such as a limit to how many are asked, and a process for determining which students ask.
With these three components of relationship building, you’re setting a foundation for learning where students feel safe and comfortable in their classroom environment. Continue to model safe relationships throughout the year and deepen your connection with each student and among peers so they can build these important skills as well.