Planning Ahead for Peace
While you are fresh at the beginning of a new school year there are quite a few things that can help you prepare for a peaceful and productive year for you and your students. Please keep in mind that these ideas are what works for me and the students I am privileged to work with. I hope that you may be inspired by one or two of these ideas to create something that works for you and your community.
Carefully plan the learning space for success.
Think ahead about the learning that happens in the space and plan the layout so there is the least opportunity for conflict and the most efficient flow possible. Do you want children to have access to pencils? Where will you place them in the room so the children can get them without being in the way of each other and disrupting the work? How will they access tissues? Sanitizer? Trash cans? If you travel to classrooms, where is the best place to put your cart? How will the children pass out and collect supplies in an equitable way? Where are the instruments stored? In my classroom the pencil sharpener was a source of constant interruptions and conflict. I decided to have sharp pencils set to go every morning. A student helper gets these ready for me each afternoon this solved many problems in our classes. How will you facilitate the development of procedures to avert chaotic situations before they begin?
What can you let go?
What do you do for students that they can do for themselves or for you? What are you currently controlling and “managing” that you don’t need to? Once my students reach fourth grade I no longer need to manage their use of tissues. We agreed that unless there is an emergency, only one child should be at the tissue station at a time, and as long as they don’t abuse the privilege they just get tissue whenever they need to. A common phrase in our classroom is “Solve your problems without causing problems for you or anyone else in the world.” If you need a tool, get it and put it back when you are finished using it. I have found that the students can manage themselves. When there is an issue it is addressed on a case-by-case basis. Rarely is an entire class returned to having to ask to get what they need, although it has happened. In this case, after a period of time the children are given an opportunity to try again. Which routine tasks can students manage for themselves or you? These choices will be personal to you, your comfort level, your students and teaching style. There are no formulas here, it is up to the children and you.
Get to know your kids.
Often we think this means that we have the children share about themselves verbally, fill out “get to know you” worksheets or play name games. I do those things and I have adapted a variety of “leadership” activities that may only take a few minutes and let me observe how the children work together. I can identify which children are leaders, who gets quiet and backs away, who gets frustrated? I look for which children are the peace keepers, which students do other children respect and listen to and which student has great ideas and is ignored? There are many examples of “leadership games” available online. Here is one example.
Get in touch with families.
I have several hundred students as well, I get it. You may not get in touch with everyone, that is ok! Making an effort will go a long way. My contract requires that I send out a “syllabus” for music class. I use this to write about all of the normal things – introduction, assessment and contact information. I also take this opportunity to let parents know exactly what we do in music class; folk dance, holiday and patriotic music, singing, moving (dancing) and playing instruments. I ask families to let me know if there are any conflicts with their child participating in any of these activities. This gives me the chance to contact families regarding participation concerns before we encounter them in class and avoid relying on children to tell me when they can and cannot participate. Lastly, I ask “What should I know about your child?” It is so much fun to read the responses. One of the benefits of being a music teacher is watching the children grow from year to year. Sometimes we may have had a challenging relationship with a student the previous year. Did they do something awesome in class the first day? Call right away and establish a positive connection with the family. I make myself visible and available on meet the teacher and conference nights actively encouraging families to come to the room and find out more about our program, and to share information about the family and their children.
These are just a few of the strategies I use to plan ahead for a peaceful learning environment. Please add your ideas to the comments section on the blog so we can help each other to “Make it Work”