Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: Setting a Foundation for Belonging: Tried and True Back to School
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Setting a Foundation for Belonging: Tried and True Back to School

We all know that the beginning of the year is THE time to set out your expectations for students. Developing a classroom climate where students understand that it is their responsibility to help me create an environment where everyone feels like they belong is one of the most important goals I have on my to-do list for the first week of school. It's my job to get it out in the open right away: I expect everyone to extend kindness to one another.

Join me today as I link up with the "Tried and True" linky party to share how I set the foundation for belonging in my classroom on the first day of school {much thanks to Chrissie at the Undercover Classroom and Sarah at Education Electrification for organizing this timely linky!}

Where to Start?
As I get ready for the beginning of the year, I always gather a stack of "tried and true" picturebooks that I plan to read aloud to my students throughout the first few weeks of school. I've identified a specific goal for each read aloud--belonging, kindness, perseverance, using manners, individualism, and so on. Most of the picturebooks in my stack will help me introduce community meeting concepts to my students. (B2S Bonus Tip: It's a great idea to have a stack of picturebooks ready for any down-time you may end up with during the first week of school. Plan to over-plan!!)
The lesson I am describing for you today will happen during my "community meeting" (also known as morning meeting, but it's not always possible to have in the morning so I have adapted the term "community meeting"). As part of my master schedule, I have set aside 15-20 minutes for a community meeting, however during the first two weeks of school, my Community Meeting lessons tend to be longer because it is the beginning of the year and I am trying to set a strong foundation. For the belonging lesson I am outlining for you today, I suggest setting aside at least an hour or breaking it into multiple sessions.

How do I Begin to Set the Expectation for Kindness and Belonging on the first day of school?
Big Al by Andrew Clements is my go-to read aloud for my Belonging focus on the first day of school. Big Al is the ugliest fish in the sea but he is also one of the nicest. He tries many things to fit in, often changing himself to look more like the other fish, but nothing works. His size and look just scares all the other fish away. When a fisherman's net captures many of the fish, Big Al saves the day and proves what a great friend he can be.

Now, if you were to ask me what one picturebook I would recommend to a class that is having trouble including everyone and treating one another with respect, I would quickly hand you Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson; however, we are talking about the first day of school and along with my belonging goal, my other critical goal is ensuring that all students have a positive experience with literature each and every day. Big Al is fun to read aloud. It is the kind of story all children love to gather around. The illustrations are beautiful and fun to look at, so encourage your students to pay attention to the pictures as you read. To be honest, Big Al is just one of MANY books I will read to my class to help them learn to accept and include one another.

Preparing for your Classroom Belonging Discussion:
1) Prior to the lesson, prepare student journal pages. From this free download, you will want to decide which cover page you will use. Choose from pg 14, 15, or 16. Then, print pgs 17-19 for your first day's lesson. Even if you will not be implementing a year-long classroom meeting, you can use the cover page for your beginning of year lessons to create a nice student journal. Take a look at the prompts on pg 19. You may want to make chart papers for recording student responses during your discussion time.

2) At the start of your lesson: Introduce Big Al by Andrew Clements. Ask if anyone has read the story before. (If so, say, "Oh, you are so lucky you get to hear this one again!") Discuss what is happening in the story as you read along. During our first few read alouds together, I try not to interrupt too much because I want students to have the opportunity to just enjoy the story.

3) At the end of the story, (or as you see fit throughout) ask students how they think it felt to be Big Al. What did he want most? If students do not say "he wanted to belong," I would go ahead and use that word yourself. Yes, he wanted to have a sense of belonging.
Why do you think  the other fish did not accept Big Al?
Does this happen in real life or just in the ocean? ;)
Why was having a friend so important to Big Al?
{Side Note: Later in the year, I go deeper with  Big Al and the theme of belonging. After reading a number of belonging-themed read alouds, I want students to notice that stories about belonging often have a character who is different from the others and does not fit in. After trying to fit in in lots of different ways, almost always changing him/herself to try to be like the others, the character somehow saves the day and immediately attains a sense of belonging. There are some issues here that we should be critical about: 1) when characters change themselves to be like others, they rarely seem happy when they aren't getting to act like their true self and 2) it is rarely possible for a child to "save the day" in order to fit in. These ideas are much deeper than I want to get into for the first day of school, but I want you to know that this story and theme offers lots of opportunities for more critical reading and deeper discussions.}

4) Introduce students to the idea of community. I explain that we are going to be creating a classroom community where everyone feels that they belong and that they can be themselves. No student in our classroom (or our school) should feel like a "Big Al." I define a classroom community as "a feeling of fellowship with others who have developed common attitudes, interests, and goals." I quickly state a few common interests and goals we have--we all attend the same school and have a community through our experiences together, we are attending school to learn new things, and we all have the desire to spend our time at school feeling good about ourselves and each other. I go on to define belonging as "a feeling of closeness and that you fit into a group." It is important that in our classroom community, we all feel that we belong to this group. We may not always get along, but we need to give one another chances and we need to be kind rather than pushing people away.

5) (This would be a good time to break the lesson, or your students may be ready for some independent thinking and reflection. Just know that the following steps are the important part. The read aloud simply set the tone for your discussion.)Use journal page 19 to brainstorm some times when students feel a sense of belonging, times when someone may not feel that they belong, and ways that students can make sure others feel included. If you have time, you can let students create an illustration to show "belonging." I will record these ideas on chart paper so that we can refer to them throughout the year.


6) Next, I have students complete the student self-assessment. Students rate themselves on two statements: How good am I at helping others feel that they belong? and How strong is my sense of belonging?

Since it's the beginning of the year, students may try to make a good impression. After such a sweet story and a warm classroom discussion, they will most likely rate themselves higher than they should. Encourage students to think about last year, think about all their classmates and if they had any difficulty with making sure others felt that they belong. After rating themselves, students should set a "belonging goal" and identify strategies for working on this goal. {You will also discuss ideas when you bring students back together}.


6) Close up the meeting by having students share their belonging goals. Come back to these throughout the week to see how students feel they are fitting and extending a sense of belonging to others. Of course, keep an eye on interactions to see how you can continue to encourage a sense of belonging and plan to read aloud additional books related to belonging, kindness, and compassion {see my Handful of Beginning of Year Read Alouds document for some suggested read alouds}.

More {FREE} Resources for You:
A Handful of Beginning of Year Read Alouds (free list)
FREE Belonging Themed Journal Materials
Spy Reports: Continuing a Focus on Classroom Community throughout the year

{a new blog series! Be sure to follow along! }



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6 comments:

  1. I LOVE how you gave step by step instructions with this post! You should write a book of come back lines!!! ---> Ask if anyone has read the story before. (If so, say, "Oh, you are so lucky you get to hear this one again!") That's a great one!!

    Your graphics are also adorable!!! Thanks for sharing your ideas here, I love them!!!

    The Whimsical Teacher

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  2. @thewhimsicalteacher Thanks for stopping by!!! I'm glad you found that funny. I didn't want to go off on too much of a tangent, but I learned early on during read alouds to make it a positive thing that children had already heard the story before--elsewise, you might feel like tossing the whole lesson. However, I know that no two teachers focuses on a read aloud in the same way. {Unless you have read my post now and follow this step by step, haha!}. I hope you find some more great ideas on the blog hop!

    My graphics are from the 3am Teacher. I <3 her!

    Tammy

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  3. Sounds like a great book! Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Love your literature suggestions! I grabbed your "Handful of Beginning of the Year Read-Alouds" - Awesome idea and share!!
    Super TPT store too.
    Tricia from "Tricia's Terrific Teaching Trinkets"

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  5. Awww. Big Al! I love that book and haven't used it in so many years! Time to dig it back out again! I love the idea of naming it a community meeting. My meetings are usually in the afternoon, right after recess. I also love how you have created a journal to get them reflecting on meeting topics. I'm going to give that a try this year. Thanks for the great ideas!
    Chrissie
    Undercover Classroom

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  6. I love this! Enemy Pie is one of my absolute favorites for back to school! Community meetings are a must for the beginning of the year. I love how you use literature to discuss important topics. Thanks for sharing!

    Sarah
    Education Electrification

    ReplyDelete

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