Everyone knows that the social and emotional well-being of a child is just as important as their academic skills. In fact, our district just put “Culture and Climate” at the top of our teacher evaluations. If a student doesn’t feel safe and loved in each classroom, they they aren’t going to learn. Period.
Sure, there many ways to build a positive culture in your classroom, such as standing outside your door while students are coming in, giving them opportunities to define the rules in your classroom, letting them choose their seats, going to their extra-curricular activities, giving them a survey, etc. However, one of the BEST ways (in my opinion), is to spend time really getting to know your students on Day 1 of the school year. That being said, you need to spend time getting to know them every. single. day. of. the. year!
FIRST 5 OR 10 MINUTES OF CLASS
For the first five or ten minutes, my class never started with silent reading or a writing prompt; it started with an attendance question. Each day, I would ask a question (you can see my list below of questions), and I would take attendance by having each student answer the question. My students told me they love this part of the class because it gives their brain time to transition from one class or subject to the next. They also explained that this was a great way to get to learn about each other…who has similar answers, funny answers, and/or were extremely creative each time. In middle school, you never know what answers you are going to get. One year, I had a group of boys that somehow worked in a Morgan Freeman answer every single time. Last year, a boy answered with something about curry each day.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
Up in the front of my classroom, I have a podium with a “special stool,” and on that podium is my list of questions and a print out of student’s names. For the first week, I tell the students my question, and I call on each student for their answer. When everyone has had a chance to speak, I tell them my answer to the question. (You’ll learn that if you give your answer first, you will have at least ten other students give that same answer.) This is a great way to learn the names of students as well. It is always my goal to learn every single name by the end of the week, even when I have 170 students. There is no way I could have achieved this without doing the attendance question first.
At the end of the first week and for the rest of the year, I have a different student each day that asks the attendance question. Obviously, this would be more difficult if you teach students under third grade, but here is why I do it. The students LOVE sitting in the special chair up front with this responsibility (yes, even teenagers). It also gives me time to sit at my desk for five minutes while I am doing the attendance on my computer at the same time (yay, a chance to sit down), or I am spending that time passing back papers and handling individual student needs.
IS IT WORTH MY TIME IN CLASS?
Some of you may question whether you can give up those five or ten minutes of class. My answer is yes! When you build a positive culture and climate in your room, you are saving yourself time from discipline problems later in the year. Maybe you have that one student that makes you want to poke your eye out, and then you learn that you both share a love of horses. What better way than to connect with that student. I have also learned that the students start to feel like a family and become protective of each other, as long as you don’t allow negativity or snickering during the attendance questions. I stress that there is never a wrong answer; every one gets to feel how they feel. Kids are vulnerable, and it’s important to set up that safe place for them. If you allow students to make fun of an answer, you are actually killing the positive culture in your room, and NOW you are wasting your time in the beginning of class. Have you ever met a person who doesn’t like to share something about themselves? No, me neither.
This year, remember that the social/emotional part of a child is just as important as the subject that you are teaching. You may find that students never want to leave the room during the attendance question. There is a reason for that. Create that classroom where kids may pause before wanting to leave the room.
Feel free to use my list of questions. At the end of the list, I also have “Would You Rather Questions” that I use when I have less time and only want a one-word answer. This list is always a work in progress, so if you have questions that you think would be great to add, please let me know. I almost have you covered with enough questions for the year, though.
Here is the link to the questions: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nEwWvnacTYUvlm7i3kqGmhY0BKuOjcKxFznZxPfTHOY/edit?usp=sharing