My B.E.E.P Method for Creating Classroom Culture
Realistically, all teachers run our classes like groups: we establish norms and rules, we establish roles, and we share information. How well we do these things can mean the difference between a successful classroom culture and classroom disaster.
Over the years I've learned what things bring out the best in students, and I've narrowed them down to the four most important.
Begin with a group culture
A. Do ice breakers for the first few days of school.
Let the students know that you will be doing the ice-breakers and the reason behind doing each particular activity, or else you'll have a lot of kids saying "this again," the next time they walk into class.
Start with non-threatening i
ce-breakers like the ones that have them say their name. For example, "My name is Stella and I'm going to St. Thomas." Then move to ones that require more openness. A fun one is having them draw a person or a house and share the personality analysis based on their drawing. This allows them to open up to the kids sitting closest to them in a way that is revealing, but still non-threatening. Then finish up the week with something more personal like two truths and one lie.
If it fits into your already packed course schedule, you can also designate a day when each kid brings in one ice-breaker to try on the class. It will help them to practice public speaking and give them some leadership skills.
Establish Group Norms
Make the class a part of the rule making process. Of course there are school rules that must be enforced, but there is some leeway in your classroom. Share your rules, and have students amend if necessary and add their own rules. I really just have one rule that covers it all: Respect. Respect my time by coming to class promptly. Respect me in our interactions. Respect your classmates when they are speaking or you are working together. Respect the classroom space. I then have students tell me what those different forms of respect look like in action. Coming from them, I get a sense of whether or not they understand the rules. Having them tell me what respect means, makes them take ownership of the behavior.
No Eating in Class!!!! It's the school rule. The reality is that many students are hungry. The "nerdy" ones don't go to the cafeteria. The ones who have allergies can't go to the cafeteria. And the ones who are facing food scarcity aren't filled up in the cafeteria. So I keep food of all kinds in my room. I bring in fresh fruit (I learned to do this after having to part with my own lunch one time too many), I have energy bars, and chips, and juices, and I have a candy jar. When the students are particularly good, I bring in donuts. Kids know where to get the food, so they don't need to feel self conscious asking for food. However, rules about food and eating in class need to be established. I had to remind kids that if they were really hungry they could take food, otherwise they would use up the supply and someone who really was hungry would lose out. They also have to monitor each other to make sure that my classroom remains spotless. This takes some time, but they get it. Once their bellies are filled they can pay attention to what is actually happening in class.
Personalize Their Experience
Start your day by asking them about theirs and sharing your own life so that they get to know you. This can be time consuming, and kids love to get off track, so this time needs to be built into your schedule and monitored.
Try to assess students who seem upset. Depending on how they appear, you may ask aloud, or you may pull the student outside and ask what is wrong. Try not to begin your class without addressing whatever obvious emotional issues certain kids may be dealing with. If there is a Do Now or Bell Work activity, you can get a few minutes to confer with students before you begin instruction.
I know that with the exception of certain classes, I only have my students for five months. That is a very short time to get to know them. However, in a school of 3,400 kids, it's easy for a student to get lost. An easy way to let students know that they are recognized is to recognize their birthdays. It may sound hokey, but having the class sing happy birthday is a great way to have kids know that someone cares. As an extra, I give birthday goodie bags filled with stuff I get from Oriental Trading and Amazon. You wouldn't believe how an 18 year old faces light up when they get a squishy hand puppet.
A student who just started his freshman year at SUNY Binghamton sent me an email in which he wrote this: "And I also miss our class because it was the highlight of my day." I would like to think that his day was made better because he felt at home in my classroom. Students work best when they feel as if their classroom is welcoming place where they are valued and cared for. If you use any of these tips, please email me and let me know how they worked for you.