One of the things that I like to do at the start of the school year is sit down and consider the bigger picture of what is needed this year. I like to give myself the space to take a step back, observe and then from there start to respond and develop my plans for the year.
I often ask myself:
What is going on for this group of children?
How do they work together? Where do they struggle? What plays out between them? Where do they need more support?What is it that is important here? Not just on an academic level but in terms of developing the whole person.
What are the strengths and qualities that each child has and how can we draw these out more?
How can I develop and support each child in my class? What do they each need?
What is important to them and their families?
What are some fundamental things that are needed for this group as a whole?
I use this as my starting point at the beginning of the year. To be able to do this I really need to start to get to know the children in my class. I use the first few weeks of the term to form these relationships and get to know the children, to find out what they are interested in, how they like to learn, how they communicate, what they might struggle with, what they feel confident with, where they feel they need support, what they enjoy, who is important to them etc. It is about getting to know them as people and letting them know that you value them. This cannot be anything that is put on, it has to be genuine.
For me, building these relationships is fundamental to being able to work in partnership and collaboration with each child. I find that when children feel understood, valued and cared about they open up more and it encourages them to feel confident to bring more of themselves out and share this with others.
I also get a sense of what is needed for the group as a whole and develop a few guiding principles or boundaries that I put in place that I know will support the whole group. For example, the children may be used to engaging in nagging or dobbing behaviours so I will develop a boundary that supports them as a group to find a more supportive way of dealing with things. Alongside this I also have a sense of what is needed that will support them to build more community and so whatever I put in place will be with a focus of developing this.
When I step back and start with the bigger picture of, what skills do I want to support them to develop for life, and when I know the purpose of why I want to do this, then I find that from there it becomes clearer to me of the steps that are needed to be put in place to come to do this.
I also communicate this with the children, I share with them what we are going to develop as a class community and why I feel this is important. I share my thoughts and also invite their input into this, asking them what they feel is needed, what they feel is important, what they would like to see happen. I make sure that I am not attached to pictures of how I want things to be or that I become too set in things being a certain way but that I can allow the space for the children to contribute and also take ownership and work in partnership with me to develop the class culture.
Children can pick up on and sense when they are really allowed to express themselves or when they feel that they need to come up with a particular style of answer that is in line with what the teacher wants. So I make a point of checking this within myself and seeing if I am really listening to what they are saying or if I am attached to it being a certain way.
I find when I communicate the purpose of why we are doing things a certain way with children and invite their input into this too then the children are more engaged, have a sense of purpose and work with you to bring this together and form a collaborative class environment that they have equal ownership of and that they also work to hold this, it is not just the teacher who establishes the quality of the class atmosphere.