It took me far too long to figure out that the classroom wasn’t my private domain, filled with prisoners that I could manipulate. When I finally realized that kids will become independent, enthusiastic learners if they are part of a non-threatening community, I threw out everything that most teachers consider classroom management. I told my students the first day they were part of a unique community, a family if you will. We set out on a quest. We looked at the mission for our school and took it a step further for our own classroom. The students had great things to offer and we did many rewrites until we came up with: Our classroom mission is to provide a safe, nurturing environment that fosters lifelong learning, active participation, respect, & the belief that all things are possible.
With the mission clear in everyone’s mind, we set our sights on our vision: what we hope to achieve if we successfully fulfill our mission. We worked together and came up with: Our vision is to create one of the state’s most effective middle school classrooms by helping students who have ongoing emotional needs prepare for secondary education and leadership in their communities. The entire classroom family felt accomplished about what we came up with and were stakeholders in the mission and vision.
Next, we looked at values we hold which form the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves: our Core Values. These values focus on our unique life experiences and govern us on a daily basis. In an ever-changing world, Core Values are constant. Core Values are not descriptions of the work we do or the strategies we employ to accomplish our mission, they are the values that underlie our work, how we interact with each other, and which strategies we employ to fulfill our mission. The Core Values are the basic elements of how we go about our work. They are the practices we use (or should be using) every day in everything we do.
Our Family Core Values
Creativity: The use of the imagination or original ideas
Service: The unselfish act of doing something for someone else without expecting any reward or gain
Grit: Perseverance of effort that promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges
Self-Awareness: A clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions
Respect: A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements
Weirdness: Amusing, entertaining, or enjoyable; just plain fun
Leadership: Inspiring confidence in other people and moving them to action
These Core Values are more than just words on a paper. Every student in our family knows them forward, backward, and is able to speak passionately about them at any given time. Everything in our school day is centered on these Core Values.
Last year, we wrote a grant for a class Makerspace and begged our local Home Depot for any excel wood or hardware. They set us up! We were able to start building projects that the students designed: standing desk, shelves, outdoor games, and craft projects. If the students can think and dream it, then we make it happen. Creativity also comes into play when we use our Create Your Own Assignment. For many of my core classes, I offer choice assignments. The students can pick these assignments based upon their descriptions and be creative with their product. They feel comfortable in failing in our class, because failure is learning. And creativity is part of that.
Perhaps my favorite Core Value is service. This was completely student originated as one student wanted to do more for our school and community. We contacted our local Harvesters Food Pantry that does a drive by food pickup each month and asked how we could help. We now go once a month to the site and help. This moment alone is life changing. Here we have students many of who don’t have much money if any and they are volunteering their hearts out for their community. It is physically the hardest two hours spent, but the feeling of accomplishment these students have will take your breath away. My students started the idea of a snack cart during our last period of the day with the proceeds going to the school for “scholarships” for any students who can’t attend an activity due to funds. Just another aspect of our service value.
The Core Value of Grit is one we struggle with the most on a daily basis. We often hear students telling others to dig deep and show Grit when a particular assignment is giving them troubles and they want to give up. When one of my students were having trouble with Grit as they ran the mile in PE, another one of my students and a para (in flip flops and jeans) finished with him encouraging him the entire way. Grit is tested for us every day in so many aspects.
In our class, Self-Awareness takes on many forms. We goal set each week using our Core Values as a guide and revisit them each day to discuss our strengths and weaknesses. We start our day with ups and downs for each of us (adults included) and reflect on the good and bad things we are facing. This part of our day is the most integral part. It has so many purposes. It allows our family to bond and build relationships which are critical to student success, especially for my students who have serious ongoing emotional needs. We meditate after lunch before we transition to the next period. Meditation was purely an accident. Last year, I was so frustrated with behavior during that “coming down” period after lunch that I turned out the lights and used the free headspace account to bring some self reflection and quiet time to the room. I could not believe the response from the students. They absolutely loved the time so now it is a daily thing. I can attest, it has changed the climate of the room 100% during that transition time after the craziness of lunch.
Respect was the Core Value that surprisingly barely made the cut. Our Core Values are guiding principles, but not necessarily the base qualities that are non-negotiable. Our family agreed that respect was a given, but probably the area where most students struggled in the past and the area where most students were written up in the previous archaic form of classroom management, so we kept it in, because we are all learning. In our parent communication form that we use each day, we mark the Core Values of student strength and the Core Values of student weaknesses, so the parent or family member is aware of the day. Using the Core Values and indicators is just another way to support and immerse our family in the values that they are stakeholders in. We have received only positive feedback with regards to using the Core Values as our measure of the day and our IEP goals reflect the change as well.
The value of Weirdness is so much fun! Middle school is such a tough time with kids always trying to find themselves. We all preach to respect each other’s differences, but in the next breath we are asking kids to follow along with the group. These messages leave so many kids confused. We decided as a family that we needed and believed in a Core Value of finding the fun in things and celebrating the weirdness and fun within ourselves and with school. At any one time, you can see our family wearing funny costumes, dancing like no one is watching, singing along to the music that is always playing in our room, or laughing to funny videos like James Corden, Jimmy Fallon, or Ellen. When the weather is nice, we take it outside for friendly competitions in homemade Frisbee golf, horseshoes, or washers. The students reminded me how serious and boring we take ourselves and school can be so monotonous, so lighten up and celebrate.
Our final Core Value for this year is Leadership. Many of the students in my class don’t always consider themselves leaders, so we spend considerable time talking about leaders and what makes a good leader. They realize that leadership opportunities are everywhere, both positive and negative. It is up to them to create these opportunities and take hold. We have an afterschool group where my students are paired up with others and given the chance to practice these inspirational opportunities. Last year, my students took the initiative to create flexible seating in our classroom. We all worked together to acquire comfortable chairs and other seating through grants the students wrote or through their own garage sale finds!
So in our class the term family means so much, it means belonging…to a classroom and so much more. It means shared mission, vision, and Core Values. Students in our family feel safe and a part of something much more than just a classroom. They know their voices are heard and valued. They are family.
|Embrace the Whole YouA classroom dedicated to growth||
Embrace the Whole You