It’s funny…so much of an educator’s most important work literally has nothing to do with books. Think about it this way: We can teach our students to write a grammatically perfect sentence, but if that sentence and the writer behind it lack compassion, empathy and respect for others, it matters very little if the subject and the verb agree.
It’s easy to forget that kindness, respectful listening and general politeness are learned behaviors—behaviors we have to teach and model for our students if we are truly serious about creating a compassionate classroom where no bully can thrive. All teachers want this, but how do they accomplish it? We’ve been reading Naomi Drew’s book, No Kidding About Bullying, a practical, no-nonsense guide that offers readers 125 activities to help teachers collaborate with students to build a bully-free environment. We like her ideas so much that we’d like to share one of them with you:
Introducing the Concept of a “Get-Along” Classroom
This activity is an ideal one to start off the school year with, but you could also introduce it once students return from Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter break—or at any time during the year when you and your students need a “fresh start.”
The idea is to have students collaborate to identify qualities of a “get-along” classroom—that is, one that is safe, supportive and best suited for learning. Once your students have identified these qualities and everyone agrees to them, draft a get-along constitution, have each student sign it and display it in your classroom. This will be a useful teaching tool in the future: Rules won’t seem arbitrary to students, especially when you can remind them that they not only helped create the constitution, but they also agreed to it.
What you’ll need
Drew recommends that teachers purchase a soft globe, something that you can pass around or lightly toss without anyone getting hurt. Globes are a useful “talking object” you can pass around; they are also useful for reminding students that they are a part of the global community, that what they do impacts the world around them.
You’ll want to document and collaborate with your students to review their ideas, so you should have a white board or chalk board on hand. You’ll also need a large piece of poster board and perhaps an easel to display it. If you don’t have one, the tray on the chalk/white board will work just as well.
What you’ll do
Gather your students in a circle and ask each of them to say what their hope is for the rest of the school year. After each student has contributed, hold up the globe and remind them that their classroom is connected to the global community. Next, ask them, “What kind of world would you like to grow up in?” Write their responses on the board.
Next, ask them to close their eyes and take a minute to reflect on what kind of classroom they want to be a part of. Ask them, “What does it look like?” While your students are reflecting, draw a line down the center of the board to create two columns. Then write “Qualities of a Get-Along Classroom” at the top of one column. After a minute or two, toss one of your students the globe and ask her to share her reflections. Write these on the board. Now ask the student to say the name of one of her peers and lightly toss the ball. Continue this until each student has shared.
Now have your student look at the list they’ve compiled and ask them, “How can we make this possible? In other words, how do we create a get-along classroom?” Again, have them close their eyes and reflect on this. As they reflect, write “Our Agreements for the Get-Along Classroom” above the second column on the board. Repeat the activity by passing the globe around and documenting each student’s answer.
You may need to ask your students to be more specific. Don’t settle for generic responses like, “Be nicer to my peers.” Instead, prompt them to be more specific; ask them how they can be nicer to their peers.
Once you’ve compiled your students’ answers, rewrite them on the poster board and have each student sign it. Writing on the chalk/white board first will allow you and your students to further refine their constitution before committing it to paper.
Following up activities
To reinforce the qualities of a get-along classroom, draft a short letter to your students’ parents. In it, describe the activity and list all of the qualities the students came up with. Ask the parents to help remind their child of these qualities. You might even include a picture of the get-along constitution to help illustrate the point.
If you found this article helpful, check out our Bucket Filling guide where you'll find more creative ways to nurture kindness and respect in your students and your classroom!