At the beginning of the school year, I always start with a lesson that sets the tone for the rest of the year. Of course, normal expectations and routines are explained first. An emphasis is given on the fun and an exciting new school year. Next, I have them draw and write about a series of questions that I give them pertaining to their life. Example: How many brothers and sisters do you have? Do you have any pets? I then sit with each one of them so that they can explain each paper.
During this project, I get to know about the lives that my students have lived. This is often when I find out about their cultural and socio-economic background. I have my students write and draw about their favorite things to do. Their responses give me ideas how to make the curriculum more relevant to them individually.
This is normally when I find about their academic difficulties or sometimes about their dysfunctional home lives. I begin to develop a deep awareness of students’ challenges and needs. This activity enables me to assist students to a more proficient and effective school year. During this beginning lesson, most students discuss or draw about a mistake or two that they have made. I explain that it is not about the mistakes in life, it is how we learn from them. The students’ growth begins. And, each one begins to grow from the knowledge of their past.
At the end of the week students are allowed to share one paper. Before they share, we talk about being kind and having empathy towards others. It is very important for students to understand at the beginning of the year that in my classroom they must learn to understand and accept the feelings of others. This displays that their opinions and lives matter to everyone. Absolutely, their values and opinions and experiences matter and others values and opinions of others matter, too! This affirmation of students’ dignity helps develop a trusting relationship between students.
In my opinion, students that have caring relationships with teachers are academically more successful and tend to have better behavior at school. Even the smallest caring gesture, like this simple project, can have a huge impact on our students.
This project creates a classroom culture where students feel safe to share their feelings and take chances, which will help them grow academically. I define my success by the success of my students. It is not about my teaching, it is about their learning.