As a reading teacher, there’s nothing I love more than an emotional, moving children’s book. Scratch that . . . I love nothing more than a children’s book you can make connections to as an adult. In Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness, students learn the value of how kindness has a ripple effect—similar to tossing a stone in a pond. The waves swell and grow exponentially. While reading, I immediately connected it to being an educator because our actions impact our students, just like the stone. Except it’s up to us to ensure the impact is positive.
Tossing the First Stone to Create a Positive Classroom
Dr. Harry Wong wasn’t lying when he said the first days of school are the most important. These days are your foundation for building meaningful relationships with your students. If you think about it, it’s odd that we expect our students to buy in to classroom rules on the first day. Would you feel inclined to obey a person you just met? Absolutely not. Instead, why not throw a party!
For the last two years, I’ve begun the school year with a black-light party filled with glow-in-the-dark games and activities. Students have a chance to establish new relationships of their own with their new classmates while you make your rounds, weaving from game to game, orienting yourself with the little humans you’ll share your year with. You can do this with board games as well. Just set them up across the room. Your students will feel your positive impact and will be excited to come back to school!
On the second day, I “trick” my students into collaborating with each other to determine our classroom norms or rules. Have your students write important characteristics (e.g., kindness, positivity, honesty, etc.) on chart paper or on their desks with washable markers (keep those wipes nearby). Then engage them in an activity to explain what those characteristics look like in the classroom. For example, one of my students wrote that honesty in the classroom looks like acknowledging your mistakes and growing from them. At the end of the activity, I let them in on my secret . . . I tricked them into telling me how they THEMSELVES expect to act. When students feel their voices are heard, they begin to feel important and seen. This is the foundation of a strong relationship. You’ve tossed the first stone, and your impact will have a ripple effect for the next 179 days!
Celebrating the Ripples . . . Not Just the Waves
Throughout the year, I make it a point to recognize and celebrate my students’ growth. While we should absolutely acknowledge our students when they meet their goals, we should also celebrate them when they make progress toward those goals throughout the year.
Two words—confetti cannons! When my students make great gains, I let them pop off a confetti cannon. The pride they exude when the confetti bursts into the air makes these inexpensive finds worth every penny. My principal has even shared in the excitement many times. If you don’t want to deal with the aftermath of a confetti cannon (and I don’t blame you), you can also celebrate growth with certificates. When students inch toward their goals, they earn a “Grow Getter” certificate along with a celebratory post on our class communication app.
Don’t Just Skip . . . Soar!
Throughout the year we want to build on the ripples we’ve generated in our students’ ponds. When they realize they have a champion rooting them on, they will inevitably succeed. Whenever teachers at our school notice a student is going above and beyond, we send home a “Positive Postcard.” You too can send a note celebrating your student’s success and growth. No matter how small it may seem, it makes a BIG difference.
Attending your students’ activities outside of school is never expected, but it makes a world of difference! A lot of my students play flag football, so when I’m free on Saturdays, I’ll catch a game to cheer them on. Unfortunately, many students don’t have strong support systems at home, and we’re often their only support. Showing up and celebrating what they’re passionate about shows them you sincerely care. And when kids know they’re loved, research shows they perform better academically.
As teachers, we have the chance to transform ripples and waves into tsunamis of confidence and success. Having a growth mindset, high expectations, and unbreakable relationships with your students is not only rewarding for you but life-changing for them.
Want more from Jonathan? Listen to this episode of the Extraordinary Educators™ Podcast.