Classroom culture is imperative to successful classroom management. I spend the first few months of school building a classroom culture of respect and it pays off in the end. When students feel respected by their teachers and peers, they choose to make better behavior choices.
Even Robert Marzano agrees - "Teacher-student relationships provide an essential foundation for effective classroom management—and classroom management is a key to high student achievement."
According to the Teaching Tolerance website, "teachers must provide safe spaces where students are seen, valued, cared for and respected. And behavior management systems must support safe, inclusive communities by enforcing high standards for respectful interaction; incorporating student-generated discipline policies; teaching conflict resolution; and actively addressing all instances of bias, bullying, exclusion or disrespect."
One strategy that I've found helpful when building our classroom culture is carefully targeted read aloud books.
Here are my favorites for building our classroom community. We refer back to them all year long!
Read Aloud #1
The first book I read every year is Thank You Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco.
This story is about Patricia as a child, her struggles with reading and bullying, and how a special teacher noticed and changed her life. I start with this book because I tell my students. "I want to be this teacher for you. I promise to do everything I can to help you grow and change - if you'll let me."
I want my students to know that I'm going to work really hard this year for them and in response, it makes them want to work hard for me (and for themselves which is even more important).
This book also offers a great opportunity to start an open dialogue about how the students in your class are going to deal with each other's differences and bullying. When the students feel like they're in charge of the classroom culture and making the decisions about important issues, they follow through with their promises.
Read Aloud #2
Secondly, every classroom community needs to read and share The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up To Others by Maria Dismondy and Bob Sornson.
Now that you've established how you are going to treat your students this year, it's time for a discussion about how they're going to treat each other. Building a classroom culture of respect among your students is critical and will reduce those daily tattling/recess complaints.
This book is about a new kid who enters a class where they've already made a promise to treat each other with respect. The new student starts to treat a few kids disrespectfully and the classmates stand up and model how to solve the situation positively. So often kids just watch bullying from afar and are too afraid to do anything about it. The Juice Box Bully challenges students to stop being bystanders and to stand up for their classmates together.
"This books is what will make us a family," I tell my students. We make our own classroom promise after reading this book, and pledge to follow it all year long.
Read Aloud #3
The third book I share with my students is The Energy Bus for Kids by Jon Gordon. We've talked about the teacher-student relationship, and the student to student relationships, now it's time to address the relationship with themselves. How are the students going to make this a great year for them! A positive attitude is so important in life. The Energy Bus gives kids steps for making each day a positive one. When kids are getting down on themselves for mistakes, I refer to the steps in this book all year long. It helps them remember that they have the power to turn their day around.
Read Aloud #4
Last but not least, I shared this book for the first time this year - Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena.
It won the 2015 Newbery Medal and the message it send readers - to accept others for their differences, to be grateful for what you have, and to serve others - is so powerful. We talk about how we are going to approach every day as an opportunity to do all three of these things in our classroom.
You can build a positive, respectful, teacher-student-self classroom culture in one week by sharing, discussing and implementing the ideas from these read alouds. If you have other great read alouds that build classroom community, share them in the comments below. I'd love to add to my collection!!
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