I look out at this new group of kiddos, and wonder about their stories. Who has divorced parents and goes back and forth between them? Who has older siblings who bully them? Which kids are regularly taken to R rated movies and taught that foul language is acceptable and even necessary? Who worries every day that their mom or dad will be deported? Who has a parent read with them every day, and teach them to be kind?
My job is to turn this group of eight-year-olds into a team. A family. A group of friends who look out for and encourage each other. This is my top priority, because when students feel safe and cared for, they learn. And when they don't, well, they shut down. Some years are easier, and some are more of a challenge. Here are some things I can do to make this happen.
Kindness sparks kindness. I'm the grownup here, so it begins with me! I must show my students the way that I expect them to behave. Say please and thank you. Apologize and ask forgiveness when you hurt someone. Give a sincere compliment, ask a question, give a smile and a greeting.
Seriously. I explicitly teach my students what it means to show kindness. We have a morning meeting every day during which we share good news and bad news with each other. This is when students learn how to appropriately respond to a classmate who is happy, and how to respond to one who is sad or angry or scared.
The sharing ball is passed around the circle, and only the person holding it may speak. Others respond with gestures - happy fingers to show that we are happy with them, or a hand on the heart to show that our heart hurts for them. We have also had lots of laughter, and even some tears for each other - when a family member has died, for instance.
(If you are wondering about the time a morning meeting takes - we give it twenty minutes every day, and it is so worth it. My principal watched and agreed that it teaches speaking and listening skills, which are an important part of our language block.)
Within the first few weeks of school, once we've gotten to know each other, we write a class motto together. We ask ourselves three questions:
- Who are we?
- Why are we here?
- How are we going to accomplish our goals?
"We are the third graders at ___________ school. We are a team of friends who look out for each other. We are here to learn the third grade standards so that we will be ready for fourth grade, high school, college, and a job someday. We will do this by asking questions, working hard, doing our homework, reading a lot, making smart choices, and having stamina for learning. This is our pledge and our promise!"
It doesn't take long at all for this to be memorized, and hopefully internalized! When problems arise in the classroom, I can say, "We are a team of friends..." and the kiddos will finish with, "Who look out for each other!" This is powerful.
In case you haven't noticed yet, I kind of have a thing for quilts. I have some that my grandmother and great grandmother made, and I love their history. Every quilt has a story. (If you've never read Patricia Polacco's book The Keeping Quilt with your students, you should!)
So I've made a free Kindness Quilt for you and your students. My hope is that you will use it as a part of your effort to promote kindness on your school campus and in your classroom. I love that it is math fact practice - three levels for differentiation - as well as being a beautiful display for your wall, bulletin board, door, or window. Students can choose their own colors, which makes every quilt square unique. Click on the picture below to download it from my TpT store.