Community is everything. The community within my classroom is the center of all things we do. It is made up of the students, the classroom teacher, and all the other teachers who work with our students. Here you will also find resources on classroom management. I don’t use term anymore and use the classroom community instead. Besides, we don’t actually “manage” students. We encourage and inspire, and build connections.
When they are healthy, kids feel safe, secure, and ready to learn. Of course, then, when they aren’t reliable, or kids don’t know expectations or boundaries, they don’t feel safe, secure, and ready to learn.
Rethinking what we do is what teaching is all about. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. I know parent/teacher conference time is coming up, and today we’re discussing how we talk about student’s families. Sometimes we act like parents don’t care about their children- that isn’t true.
We've All Heard It... Or Said It
Parents Don't Care
“I can’t believe they don’t even care about their child.”
“____’s mom couldn’t bother to show up for parent/teacher conferences again.”
“We waited for an hour, but ____’s dad never showed for the meeting.”
I know that I have said some of the things above, and I have heard other teachers saying them as well. It didn’t strike me as something I shouldn’t say and were said out of frustration until this parent/teacher conference story from long ago.
Parent: How many other parents actually showed up for conferences today? I heard from ____’s teacher that she only had four families show.
Me: I’ve had most families show up.
Parent: I mean, I just can’t believe that these parents don’t care. Showing up for parent/teacher conferences is the least they could do. If you have time to go and get your nails done, you have time to show up here. I’m a lawyer, and I even managed to clear my schedule today. So if I can do it, someone working at McDonald’s can do it. Have a great rest of your day!
WHAT? How many of us have heard this conversation with the belief that if they cared, they would show up.
What's the Problem?
All parents care about their children. I believe that parents are trying to do what’s best for their children. True, there is a small percentage (read: super, super small- teeny tiny) of parents that aren’t doing what’s best for their children, but that is not the majority of parents.
PARENTS DO CARE ABOUT THEIR CHILDREN.
Ok. let’s unpack this “If I could clear my schedule as a lawyer someone at McDonald’s could too.”
Uh, no, they can’t. Have you been to McDonald’s? They can’t just take a break whenever you like! There is a schedule to stick to. Your work schedules you for specific hours, and it’s expected you work those hours.
I like to think about my mom and my dad. My mom has always worked in retail, and my dad is a financial analyst and works in business. I don’t visit my mom at work, and I know that she is often only available to respond to my texts during her break. My dad is much more open. I can text him, and if he ever looked at his phone, he could answer it. I’ve popped into my dad’s office on a whim and taken him to lunch. My dad needs to notify his secretary that he will be back later, that’s all! My mom doesn’t have that luxury.
To say that parents who work at McDonald’s (or wherever) don’t care about their children because they don’t have the luxury of leaving work to come to school isn’t ok. They are showing they care for their children because they’re working to provide for them. They’re doing their best, and they don’t need hate. Maybe we need to rethink the structure of parent-teacher conferences to allow more parents the opportunity to attend.
Stop the Parent Shaming
We, as teachers, shame parents all the time, and we might not even know it. Usually, it happens out of frustration because we care deeply for each and every one of our students. The parents we work with also care deeply about their children. I’m not a parent, but I hear that the love you feel for your child is unreal and super deep. So, we could make a little argument that parents care about their children more than I can even imagine. We need to listen for the tone and messages that are sent by our words.
We’re doing the best we can as teachers and parents are doing the best they can as parents. Let’s work together! We each are concerned with the best interests of the child, and let’s focus on that. Sometimes I forget about meetings after school and only realize it as I see everyone on their way. Sometimes I forget to take attendance in the morning. We all mess up, and we’re all doing the best we can do. A bit of understanding and empathy might better serve our parent relationships better.
What I've Learned
If we care deeply about the children in our classroom, then we also care about their families. Families are doing the best they can. When people ask me questions that I know have negative connotations, I do my best to help rewrite this story we’ve written about those parents.
We’re all doing the best we can. We all support the student and their learning. That support looks different based on so many various factors. If parents don’t show up to parent-teacher conferences, it isn’t because they don’t care. Try reaching out in other ways. Connecting through Seesaw might be one way to show and communicate student progress. Whatever you do, don’t give in to the parent shaming!
Tap Someone WHo
Has your class ever had a moment (or several) where it seems like they just can’t get along? Does every little moment turn into a small tiff? When that happens, it is best to pause the academic learning and work on some social-emotional learning. It’s time for a class gratitude activity! Tap Someone Who is the perfect one. I learned this activity at summer camp, and I have played it with adults, teens, first graders, and everyone in between.
When I was a junior in high school, I was a counselor in training at the summer camp I attended as a camper. It was so exciting and so overwhelming. We spent a few weeks at the camp, pretending we were the real cool camp counselors we had looked up to since we were kids. BUT so much time with such few people in the woods can lead to a bit of drama. We were at each other. We argued about everything and anything; it was not good. After attempting to get us to work through training, our counselor lost it! I don’t blame her. We were really pushing the limits. So, she kicked us all out of our cabin. We were sent to different parts of the camp with our notebooks to sit in reflection. This was serious. We scattered all around and were eventually called back to the cabin.
I was nervous walking back, what was going to happen? When we returned, it was a calm environment. We didn’t get yelled at. We got to reset as a group by playing Touch Someone Who. It was such a wonderful experience. A chance for all of us to show the appreciation that we weren’t showing earlier. A chance to reset together and remember that we do care about one another. Since this experience at camp, I’ve played this game in many different settings, both as a participant and a leader. It is always such an enjoyable and powerful experience.
Preparing for the Activity
This class gratitude activity is perfect when your class is about to have or is already having a meltdown. It is also the ideal activity for right before or after a break. It is also an excellent activity for Valentine’s Day. Isn’t Valentine’s (not Valentimes!) Day all about showing appreciation?
Before you begin, you’ll also want to plan out which students you’ll call up together. Ideally, it would be between 3-5 students depending on the size of your class. I try not to call friends up together because then they get a little rowdy, and they might not know who to tap. It’s always good if kids have a go-to friend that they can tap if they aren’t sure who to tap. Once you plan out your groups, write the students’ names on the transition cards. Please know that the first group goes on Direction Card 8.
I have included a color copy of the transition cards. You might want to print them out on colored paper, so they stick out in the pile.
After you’ve planned out the groups to call up together, read through the different descriptors, and pick which ones are best for your group. Use the blank cards to add in additional ones specific to your class or school and eliminate the ones that aren’t right for you. If you have any additional suggestions, please email me or comment below! I like to plan that each group starts their tapping with lighter statements and then moves into deeper statements. The last statement of the game is always “tap someone who touched your heart,” and I make sure I tap every student for that card.
See how many descriptor cards you’ve picked and how many groups you have. Stick the transition cards in between the Tap Someone cards, so you’re all set. I like to hole punch all the cards and put them on a binder ring; then they’re easier to manage during the activity.
I really like to set the mood a little bit. You don’t have to do this, but it does make things feel a bit cozier, a bit more comfortable. I like to dim the lights or turn them off entirely, depending on how dark your space gets. I also play some relaxing music softly in the background. I’ve found that sort of touch calms down the environment and sets the tone for the activity.
Keep in mind that you know your students the best. There have been years I didn’t do these things because it wasn’t right for my class.
Gather Your Class for A Class Gratitude Activity
Gather your class at the carpet and have them sit in a circle to explain the directions. I ask that all students hold questions until the end. I have scripted out direction cards in the set. Know that you may need to make changes to fit your teaching style and your class. Do what’s best for you!
Possible DIrection Script
“We need to sit in a circle.”
-wait for your kids to get into a circle
-make sure that kids are sitting next to someone who will allow them to focus on the activity.
-have students face inwards for the directions and then turn around when the game is about to start.
-I usually dim the lights during the directions to help set the mood.
“Today, we’re going to do a gratitude activity. Gratitude means showing appreciation or giving thanks. Today we’re appreciating our community. We work together every day, and it is nice to pause from time to time and let others know that you notice good things about them, and you’re glad we’re all together in this class. I’m going to explain the directions of our activity now. Please save your questions until the end because I might answer them as I explain.
In this activity, you will face the outside of the circle and gently close your eyes. We won’t turn around until the directions are finished. I will call students to the center silently, so no one knows who is in the middle of the circle. If you are tapped, you’ll have to be extra quiet. Then I will read out statements, and the people in the middle will gently tap people in our community who match the statement.
When you are picked to come to the middle, you will get a chance to show gratitude for the different members of our community. If you are sitting around the circle, you will receive appreciation. If you get tapped after I say ‘tap someone who…’ you’ll stay in your spot and quietly reflect on why someone appreciates you. It might be for something you knew you’d get tapped for, and it might be unexpected.
I might read a card that says, ‘tap someone who makes you laugh.’ If you’re in the middle, you’ll gently tap people on the head or shoulder who make you laugh. Sometimes you might respectfully tap a few people. Sometimes you might only tap one.
When someone taps you, don’t turn around to try to figure out who it is- accept their appreciation. It isn’t about who gets the most taps or who is tapping you- its that you’re an important member of our community, and we’re glad you’re here.
People in the middle with get to show appreciation for a few statements before we switch.
Sometimes it can be tricky to remember if a tap means I appreciate you or if a tap means to come to the middle.
If I say, ‘tap someone who…’ and you get tapped, you stay where you are.
But if I say, ‘when I tap your shoulder, please come to the middle,’ you’ll come to the middle. If you’re not sure, pause, and I will repeat what I said. Listening closely will help us be successful.
For everyone to feel safe during this activity, the taps must be gentle. You can tap someone on top of the head or the shoulder. You must tap them gently and with respect. The point of this activity is to build appreciation and show gratitude. If we aren’t safe, people won’t feel appreciated.”
-Demonstrate acceptable touches.
“What questions do you have?”
“Please turn and face the outside of the circle. When I tap you on the shoulder, please come to the middle.”
*Tap the students who are in the first group*
When Do I Go In The Middle?
Sometimes groups struggle to understand when they come to the middle and when they don’t. It may be nice to ring a chime during the transition time. Explain that if they hear the bell once and they are tapped, it means to come to the middle of the circle. If they hear the bell twice, that means stay in your spot. It is also helpful to repeat those directions several times before tapping anyone during the transition and after the transition. It may also be beneficial to practice the transition a few times before turning around so students can see how it will go.
Students Without Many Taps
Some students might receive fewer taps than other students. Please watch for these students and ensure that they are tapped from time to time. There are some statements that I tap each student in my class. Sometimes I also play a sneaky trick where I change up how I’m tapping students, so they don’t always know it’s me. Maybe I’m not fooling anyone, but I like to think I am.
Tapping Too Hard
Some students might tap too hard. Please review that tapping is to be kind and gentle. Students should feel appreciated when they are tapped, not injured. Make sure you explain exactly where the tap can be placed on the body. We usually do tops of the heads and shoulders.
The discussion is one of the most valuable parts of this class gratitude activity. It is so important to conclude with a discussion and a brief reflection. Sometimes there’s so much energy that I prompt students to turn and talk with a partner about their experience. Sometimes there’s a calm feeling as students turn around, and then I dive right into the prompts. Feel the room and decide what’s best for your group.
“When you are finished, please sit down.”
*Wait for participants in the middle to sit down and then take a few seconds to pause before calling everyone back*
“Take a moment, open your eyes, and turn back to face the middle of the circle when you’re ready.”
*During the conversation, no one should be forced to share. If no one wants to open up about their experience right away, that is ok. Let participants share when they are ready.*
Here are some possible discussion questions. There are additional blank cards if you need to add any questions to fit the needs of your group.
I do try to steer the conversation away from how many taps people got and try to guide it towards how do you feel? Why was this class gratitude activity important?
- How did this make you feel?
- Why is it important to show each other we care?
- How did it feel when someone tapped you?
- Were you surprised by any of the taps you got?
- Were there any statements you wished I had said?
- How did it feel when you got to tap someone?
- Why do you think we kept our eyes closed, so we didn’t know who was in the middle?
- How did you feel at the beginning? How do you feel now?
- How can we continue this feeling of appreciation for the rest of our day?
Depending on the flow of the conversation, you might only use a few discussion questions, or you might use a lot of them.
Download Tap Someone Who
Click here to visit the resources page of Ms. Natasha Theodora and download Tap Someone Who.
Please come back once you’ve completed the activity with your class and share any tips or comments that will help others along the class gratitude journey!
Morning Meeting- Building Community One Morning At a Time
Good Morning, Sunshine!
Morning meeting begins with a greeting. The greeting helps build community because it allows students to say hello to each other and to settle into the learning space for the day. We, as teachers at meetings, also like to have time to say hello to each other before we begin the work we have at meetings. Kids want the same opportunity, and it isn’t tough to facilitate it.
Greetings can be opportunities to get silly with your class. Just a few weeks ago, we did a greeting in different silly voices, and some kids laughed so hard they cried. The greeting can also be a time to reaffirm one another through compliments or to catch up on our weekends. Coming together as a group is a great way to begin the day.
On the first day of each new week, our class shares one smile and one frown from the weekend. These smiles and frowns help kids make connections with one another. Oh, you fell when you were skiing this weekend and hurt your arm? Once that happened to me. I went to a birthday party too! Did you eat cake? Through smiles and frowns, we build connections as a class. We also work to develop empathy as we hear about different events in each other’s lives. Now, not everyone is forced to share a smile and a frown because that would take away the safety of the space created through morning meetings. Kids may also share two smiles if they don’t have a frown. The rules are flexible.
Routines Are Life
Kids thrive in routines. Kids knowing exactly what is going to happen first thing in the morning creates a calm start to the day. Usually, around October, kids in my class start to go through the motions of morning meeting all on their own. When I taught first grade a few years ago, a parent needed to speak with me at the start of the day. As I was in the hall, the bell to start the day rang. When I stepped back into my classroom a few moments later, the kids were just finishing up the greeting. Routines are life!
Morning meetings can solve so many of those little issues in the classroom. We frequently have community problem-solving time at the end of the morning meeting. Sometimes kids make small announcements like, I had to pick up ten pencils yesterday that kids just left on the floor. Can you please remember to put your pencils back? Other times I’ll use the activity time of morning meeting to build each other up when we’re having a tough time getting along. Doing a quick compliment chain can change up your classroom environment. Creating a strong community makes a world of difference in the classroom, and conflict resolutions is a large part of that.
Build Conversation Skills
During morning meetings, we don’t do hand raising (*usually*). We learn how to have conversations together. We’re learning life skills like two people cannot talk at the same time because neither one is heard. We learn how to add on to someone’s ideas. We learn what to happen when two people begin talking at the same time. Knowing basic conversation skills is essential, and morning meeting is the perfect time to practice them and work through the tricky parts.
Do What Works For You
I know the morning meeting format is greeting, share, activity, and morning message. I don’t follow that format exactly. When I taught first grade, we did the greeting, School Tools TV, schedule, and Daily Dendrite Challenge. We also had a feeling word each week that we discussed in depth. Now that I am teaching third, we do it a little bit differently. We typically do a greeting, School Tools TV, and then an activity. On Tuesdays, we always have some sort of quick check-in or lesson on the Zones of Regulation.
Don’t be afraid to customize morning meeting to fit your style. At the end of the day, our goal is to connect as a community and create a strong bond together. There are many different paths to the same outcome. Do what works for you!
Do you use morning meetings in your classroom? What benefits do you see? Do you stick to the Responsive Classroom structure or make it your own? I’d love to hear more in the comments below!