The new school year has been off to a quick start! Third week in and it often feels as though we never left the classroom at all yet I still always feel excited anticipation for a new year! This year is particularly important after the challenging year that we all faced. Just as we feel anticipation for a new year, so do our students! It is essential more than ever to welcome students back to the classroom and ensure that they feel welcomed and excited to learn! School may not be every child’s favourite, but we need to do our best to make sure that our classroom is a place they want to be. Whether you are in person, hybrid or virtual this year, there are a number of ways to still add personalized detail.
WHY A STUDENT CENTERED CLASSROOM?
While this may seem self explanatory, it is always a good reminder to all teachers why we need to center our classrooms around our students! Our students are the entire reason we do what we do! Our job is to teach young minds and help them grow. This is our passion and what we love! It also requires a lot of hard work and dedication. When we choose to focus our classroom on our students and their needs, we are able to create a safe place for them to learn. This makes our jobs easier and more enjoyable! When our students feel safe, comfortable and happy in our classrooms, it helps make our job that much easier – and who wouldn’t want to make work life easier? So I’ve put together and shared a few pointers on just how to do this!
HOW TO CREATE A STUDENT CENTERED CLASSROOM
1. GET TO KNOW YOUR LEARNERS
If I had one piece of advice that was most important, it would be this. Get to know your students. Regardless if you teach younger or older grades, knowing your students, building rapport, and creating relationships with them will set you up for a successful year. Each student is so unique and needs to know that they are loved and cared for in the classroom. I have always found that when I take the time to create good relationships with my middles at the beginning of the year, the rest of the year goes that much more smoothly.
When students feel seen and heard, they are much more willing to listen and learn from you. Plus you just have more fun, when you know your students! I always start the year off by having the students complete a survey about themselves and then have the parents complete a survey too. This helps me get to know my middles from two perspectives. I also hold short interviews with each of them in the first week to really start building that relationship and learn about them. Often, I find that I can connect with my students by finding something we share in common or relating to how they are feeling about school. I can clearly remember what it was like as a middle school student myself, including my interests and big feelings as a tween.
I also like to plan an ‘All About Me’ classroom activity that is meaningful for my students. When they share about themselves in an activity that is relevant to their interests, not only are they more likely to be willing to partake in the activity but they also share freely about themselves while at the same time have an opportunity to learn and remember interesting facts about their peers!
The activity I used this year was entitled, ‘There’s More to Me Than What You See’. The students loved sharing about themselves through a doodle poster that included tasks that they could connect with. For example, I wanted students to share their favourite app, design a water bottle sticker, share their playlist etc… Not only was this meaningful for them but it also provided feedback for myself as their teacher and has enabled me to create a classroom environment that caterers to their interests. I created classroom playlists from the songs they listed on their poster and I was also able to see some of their most loved apps such as ‘TikTok’. This feedback will be a bonus when planning projects and assignments in a number of subject areas this year. You can grab this activity here.
Our middles love coming into the classroom and seeing their names! This is such a simple thing, but it goes a long way. When they come in and see their names on name tags, tents, or other activities, they feel a sense of belonging. On the first day of school, I will put my student’s names on their desk so they know right when they walk in the classroom they are in the right place! I also love to set up bulletin board with name tags to celebrate their work.
In that first week, allow students to be creative in sharing their name. There are lots of fun activities and games that can be used to help you do this! They could even share the history of their name! Every child has a story and they love to share it, even the quiet ones! One other suggestion I have is to try and memorize your student’s names before they walk in the classroom! Every year I do this, the students are always shocked and happy to know that I already know them!
CONSIDER STUDENT TALENTS
As you go throughout the year, consider your student’s talents and interests as you plan curriculum and classroom activities. A great way to do this is to ask students what they are interested in or do surveys about their multiple intelligences or learning styles. When you have the chance to incorporate your middles’ talents and interests, they become much more engaged in the content and are more likely to learn and remember! This also helps them to feel seen and known which continues to help you in creating those strong relationships with students.
INCORPORATE STUDENT NAMES
This is one of my favorite things to do on tests and assignments! Our students LOVE it when the math problems are about them and they get so excited! I usually adjust most of my math assignments and tests each year so that I am incorporating my student’s names. This automatically helps to engage them into the content and gets them excited about the problems. Math is a really easy place to do this, but really you can do this in any subject! Write stories about different students in your classroom or even change the names in a story! The best thing to do is to just have fun with this! Without fail, my students always love to hear their names in what we are doing. Pro tip: They also love when you include yourself, family, and other teachers and administrators in the school!
DISPLAY STUDENT WORK
Our students LOVE to share what they do! A perfect way to do this is to display their work! Most teachers usually have a spot outside of their room where they hang up their student work. You can make these places super cute and matched with your classroom theme. I would encourage you to try and find a way to display your little’s work inside the classroom too! You can do this by designating a spot on the wall for student work, or any place that works for you! Make sure that every child has the chance to display their work even if it is incomplete or done incorrectly. Teach them to be proud of their learning and the process rather than just the end result. Parents and other visitors also love to see student work displayed when they come into your classroom or during virtual tours.
DESIGNATE A PERSONAL PHOTO/PICTURE AREA
Just like our littles love to show off their school work, they also love to share things from their life outside of school! A great way to do this is to have a designated area for personal photos or pictures. You will want to make sure that you set up procedures and guidelines at the beginning of the year for when and what students can post.
There are tons of ideas you could use with this! A few are to have a few spotlights each month, have a themed photo or picture each month, or use this in conjunction with show and tell. Students will love the opportunity to share little bits of themselves with both you and the class. And you will find you’ll learn more about your students each time. Don’t forget to share photos and pictures as well! Our students love learning more about us too!
As we go into this year focusing on our students we are sure to have a great year. Creating relationships with students is the best part of our job. There are so many great ways to do that! Our students spend a LOT of time in our classrooms, the more we can do to help it feel like a home away from home, the better. No matter what this year may bring in challenges, I know that you can have a successful and happy year as you start off the year student focused, and strive to stay that way all year long!