By: Christa M. Tinari, M.A.
The end of summer involves the hustle of back-to-school preparations, including lesson planning, last-minute supply ordering, and room set-up. If you’re like many educators, you’re probably also reviewing your class list, and planning how you will interact with your students on those first few, critical days of school. You know that those initial interactions will set the tone for the entire school year. You may be hammering out the details of how you will set behavioral expectations, teach routines, and introduce engaging content. In this process it’s easy to overlook something that has a powerful impact on your students’ experiences: the mindsets you hold. Here are three essential mindsets that will help you establish a positive classroom climate to prevent bullying.
- Knowing your students is as important as knowing your content. This is one of the tenets of the Responsive Classroom approach. As soon as I heard it many years ago, it was etched into my mind. What are your students’ likes and dislikes, fears, hopes, challenges, strengths, and goals? What is their everyday life like? What are their responsibilities at home? What activities are they involved in beyond school? How does their culture inform their interactions? We can find out the answers to these questions through: sharing circles, 1:1 conversations, parent letters that introduce us to their children, home visits, attendance at school and community activities, careful observation, ‘all-about-me’ picture collages, choice-based learning, and index-card introductions. When we make the effort to get to know our students as people first, and students second, we demonstrate how much we value them as unique and complex individuals. Students who feel truly seen and valued by us will be able to form a more positive relationship with us, and will be more engaged in learning. Knowing our students also increases the likelihood that we will pick up on the warning signs of bullying. And students who trust us will come to us for support should they experience bullying. Showing this kind of interest in our students also models the kind of respect and care that we want our students to show to one another.
- The “clean slate” philosophy. This is a good mindset to consider adopting along with the “know your students” philosophy. Do you believe that every student deserves a clean slate at the beginning of the school year? You may have heard all about the past misadventures of your students from the principal or former teachers. Or, you may have had negative interactions yourself with some of the students placed in your class. Consider the impact of reminding students about their past transgressions. Unfortunately, students usually live up to their reputations-whether good or bad- once they know about our expectations and judgements. Can you imagine if someone started their relationship with you by pointing out some past failure, embarrassment, or behavioral lapse? I can think of few things less welcoming! By adopting a clean-slate mindset, you provide an opportunity for students to be seen as more than their past failures. Be sure to communicate your clean-slate philosophy to your students. In doing so, you communicate a sense of open-mindedness, fairness, respect, compassion and hope for change. Once again, this sets a tone for the way that you would like your students to treat one another as well.
- The students have the answers. This is a radical mindset shift for many educators! In our zeal to instruct, we often forget the many areas where students have the answers. When you adopt this mindset, you will experience a shift in how hard you are working for your students- and you will find yourself working with them instead. What common classroom problems can students solve? Routines that aren’t working. Seating charts. Unfinished assignments. Failed exams. “Boring” curriculum. Tardiness. This list is by no means complete! Rather than trying to solve these common problems alone, engage students in conversations that pose the problems back to them. Listen carefully to their observations, thinking and feelings. Invite them to offer reasonable solutions that might work. Most students will live up to the challenge, and will often come up with much better ideas than you would alone. Once students get into the habit of problem-solving classroom issues, they will feel more comfortable problem-solving social issues, like teasing, exclusion, and bullying as well. Why are these behaviors happening? What can each person do to contribute to a solution? What will it take to really establish a classroom community of care and respect? These conversations ensure that creating a positive school climate becomes a shared responsibility, with shared buy-in as well.
Try adopting three mindsets at the beginning of the school year. I hope they will impact your ability to create a more positive classroom climate, though modeling desired behaviors and establishing trusting relationships with your students.
Christa M. Tinari, M.A, Co-author of Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School: 48 Character-Building Lessons to Foster Respect and Prevent Bullying, 2017. Ms. Tinari is an educational consultant, inspirational speaker, and bullying prevention and SEL curriculum writer who serves schools and youth-serving organizations in the U.S. and internationally. Learn more at www.peacepraxis.com.