Community is an extremely powerful aspect of any school and its success. The community a teacher creates in the classroom can either engage and motivate the most reluctant learner or turn off the most motivated. The community that is created within the walls of a school either supports the academic and social growth of its students, or stifles it to a point students do not feel safe. Enlisting and engaging the broader school community creates partners that communicate a positive message about your school, or talk negatively about their child’s experience in your school. No matter how we look at it, building a supportive community that engages, supports, and motivates is hard work and is worthy of our time and attention.
There are many things a teacher does in the classroom to create a sense of belonging for their students. The greater challenge lies in creating a sense of belonging between all students at the school. The more difficult thing to do is to expand this sense of community to include students at multiple grade levels.
I was able to witness the power of cross grade level student involvement when our 1st grade class hosted other classes for the reading of the “All About” books they created. At various times throughout the day a class would rotate through the 1st grade classroom and 1st grade students would read their “All About” books and answer questions. It was an extremely powerful experience for both. To hear 1st grade students read their creation to a small group of 4th or 5th grade students was flat out cool! I was personally moved by the conversations that were happening right in front of me, but what was even more moving was seeing how interactions in the hallway or playground changed after this event. No longer did the 1st graders feel as if they didn’t belong. Now they knew they belonged.
I had read all fall and winter about schools hosting an Identity Day. After reading about the results of those that hosted an Identity Day in their school (Grade 1 Teacher, Forest Green School, Kent Elementary) I decided we were going to have our own Identity Day. I needed to take advantage of the foundational work our 1st grade class did in regards to creating an entire school community. So on June 16th, we hosted our first ever Identity Day!
The day only involved our 5th grade students making projects. We set their displays up in the gym and created a schedule for each of our classes to come see what they made. Parents were invited and it quickly became a community event. I can’t begin to describe how awesome the day was. Below are some things I learned:
1) It helps you realize each child has passion. One of the first things I noticed was that each student was truly excited to share what they created. It wasn’t long before I realized their excitement came from the fact they were talking about something they were passionate about. It engrained in me that we need to continue to provide learning opportunities that allow students to express themselves.
2) It the increased self-esteem of each student. Everywhere in the gym students were smiling, laughing, and sharing. They interacted with adults, teachers, other students, and community members and the confidence they displayed as they shared their project grew with each person.
3) It teaches you something about the students in your school. Knowing something about the students in your school is critically important. It provides you with the opportunity to have a conversation with the students in your school around something that interests them. What a great way to create a positive relationship with each student!
4) It builds community. Seeing the interaction between students, teachers, and community members at such a positive event can only enhance the connection each group has to the school. Interactions between students will be more positive. Teachers learn more about the students in their class and the school. Community members have a positive story to tell at the local cafe’.
I know we will continue to have an Identity Day in our school. As you get ready to begin another year in your school what purposeful activities do you have on your school calendar that will enhance and build your community? Are there minor adjustments to current activities you could make that would allow the opportunity to engage your greater school community?