Friday, September 21, 2012

What Matters Most in September - Building a Positive Classroom Environment

You'd think, as I begin my 21st year of teaching, that I would remember how stressful September is.  Right now I remember how brilliant my students were in June and how "easy" everything was.  At the end of June they were bright, passionate learners willing to take on challenges, and push themselves to be their very best.  We were a school family.  We cared and supported one another. We celebrated each others successes and encouraged one another when we struggled.  It was a really wonderful place to be.

This September I am once again reminded of where grade one students begin the school year.  They are still brilliant in their brand new grade one ways and they are keen to learn too.  But they are also a little bit fearful as they fumble through our "grade one" ways.  Grade one is new and different from Kindergarten and as much I try to keep our activities simple in nature with a focus on "hands on" for all types of learning  it's not the same as kindergarten and we all know it.

This year my students  have come from from six different kindergarten classes which means we really don't know one another very well ... yet.  You can never under estimate how much that plays a role in developing a positive classroom climate.  We don't have our family feeling.... yet.  We don't know one another's strengths, and we don't know one another's weaknesses.  Today, while doing a small group counting activity, one student mentioned to me that another student in his group wasn't doing any of the counting.  What he didn't know is that this student has struggled a lot in trying to learn his letters and numbers despite intensive intervention.  While he could join in with the counting activity he was only successful with the smaller numbers.  Once that was shared there was a job for everyone in the group and the task was completed successfully. When we are a classroom family we have a really good idea of where everyone is working out, and how we can modify, adapt, or enrich to make sure everyone's individual needs are met.

When you think about it, it's an interesting dynamic that 21 stranger like people are put in a room together to learn specific curriculum.  Goals need to be set, and criteria met.  In my role as a teacher I have things I have to teach, and I need every day in the school year to get them taught.

But for me, at this time of the year, building a positive classroom environment is the number one lesson I should be teaching.   The academics we do in the first few weeks of school, while important, are not nearly as important as the relationships we are building with one another.

So I apologize to those of you that are visiting my classroom  during "Meet the Teacher Night".  I may not have all the beautiful artwork, and impressive writing samples up on the wall, but what I will have is a class that is bonding, like a true school family should. To me, right now, that is what is most important in grade one.


  1. Thank you for sharing this Karen. I had to smile as I read your blog as I only minutes before published my blog around the idea of building community in the classroom.
    I, too, struggle with comparing today's students to June's students. Lucky for me almost half of my students have returned to me for their second year which I hope will help with the 'family' feel. But it is also critically important to remember that the group is different and that they need to establish their own identity.
    Your words have echoed my thoughts.

    1. Just read your blog post and commented on it too. We most certainly are on the same wave of thinking. Community building is SO important to me. I want every student in my class to feel that they are an extremely important member of our classroom family, because they ARE! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Can't wait to see what else we get up to this year. Karen