Reggie Routman (2003), said, “I have watched some teachers work hard to create lovely looking libraries. But they organize these spaces for themselves, and the books are often not easily accessible to students -- in terms of the types of reading materials that have been chosen and the way they are displayed and located. However, once teachers give up some control and let their students help make the decisions, pleasant surprises await” (p. 75). When I first read this, I immediately was taken back to my first year teaching third grade. I came from teaching preschool and kindergarten and was suddenly thrown into a whole new world. I was very intimidated by the prospect of being in the same room with third graders, much less trying to teach them anything. My Literacy Coach came to me and said that she had heard of a great idea that would help ease some of the challenges that lay ahead in setting up my third grade classroom. She said that I should keep all of my books in their boxes, set them aside, and let my students organize them. At first, I was completely shocked! Since I had only taught the younger grades, I was completely floored with the idea of letting my students organize my classroom library. Well, as time passed, I decided that I would try it. The whole night before I was trying to picture how we were going to accomplish this daunting task and, honestly, it made me nervous. To think about handing over all of those books I had spent so much money on to my students terrified me.
The day finally came. I told my students that today they were going to organize my classroom library. All of my students just looked at me, with a combination of excitement and overwhelming dread, all at once. I showed them where my books were, where my tubs were, gave them labels, Sharpies©, and metal rings and let them begin. I did not want to give them too much direction of how to organize my books because I honestly was curious to see how this was going to turn out. First, my students walked over to my books and dumped them all over the floor. I was alarmed ! I could not believe I had agreed to let them organize my classroom library! Then something unexpected happened. Some students grabbed tubs and told other students to get certain books. Before I knew it, my students were not only organizing the books, but also organizing themselves in the process. My other
Hand-Taking a Chance On My Classroom Library: Putting the Students in Charge
When that almost familiar face of an almost grown child shows up at my classroom door just to say hello, or when I get a random letter or email from a past student telling me that I made a difference, it honestly doesn’t get any better than that. All those long nights of lesson planning, or hours of cutting out lily pads, or all the dollars out of my own pocket for that science lesson, well, it just seems worth it. We all love it! It happens to all good teachers.
The feeling of helping students find success in the world is the reason we get up and come to school each day. Sometimes I wonder, how they even still like me. I am nagging. I am relentless. I am insistent. I am constantly in their business. I think I answered my own question. It is because I am relentlessly insistent on being in their business they know I sincerely love them. When students feel loved, accepted, protected by their teachers, the possibilities are endless. Routman (2003) contends that “Worldwide, the strongest predictor of reading achievement is the quality of student-teacher relations” (p. 13). This is my core belief, and why building relationships in my classroom is always the number one priority.
I believe that building a genuine connection with each child is the key to behavioral and educational problems within the classroom dynamics. The connection must be made with each and every student or it isn’t as powerful. One of the best compliments I have ever received came from a second grade student of mine. He said “Mrs. Bell loves all of us the same.” And trust me, that year it was not an easy feat to achieve. It is hard to like every student. Some children make it hard to like them beyond loving them. You have to do it. You must do it. I would like to share a few things I do to build relationships with my students on a daily basis.
Greet them each morning. I have always stood by my door every morning to greet my students. I give a quick hug (if they want one) and say "Good Morning" using their name. I try to give a quick compliment or “ I noticed” statement about a new haircut, cute shirt, or sweet smile.
Connect with them through journals. Every Monday morning, I write about my weekend and display it on the smartboard. Then, my students write back to me about their weekend, their feelings, or any other thought they have on their minds.
This is not a time I use to correct their writing. I take time to write back a few sentences to each student. I like doing it on Mondays so I have time to respond. I learn a lot about what their interests or worries they have through my Monday morning journals. Routman (2005) writes “At the start of the school year, especially writing is a powerful way to get to know your students, have your students get to know you , and set a positive enjoyable tone for the writing
classroom” (p . 45). It takes effort but the payoff is larger than you may think.
Morning journals are not the only opportunity to build relationships through writing. I try to write notes telling each child what I appreciate about them and leave it in their mailboxes. I think it is important to find a positive comment about each child, even when they are stretching the boundaries of my patience. I find that when I write positive notes or send emails to the parents, students react differently to me when I do have to discipline them over a misbehavior. Parents are also more likely to be supportive because they know I have their child’s best interest at
Building Quality Relationships
in Your Classroom