Tuesday, August 11, 2015

compelled tribe & building relationships

Friends, I'm back! I've been thinking about my blog for so many days, but was busy with vacation and visiting my parents and didn't really have much time to be antisocial and sit down and write. But, I'm home now, all by myself (love quiet time!) and am ready to share a back to school post with you!

In other (related) news, I just got involved with a new group of amazing educators, the #compelledtribe! I have Allie at The Positive Teacher to thank for connecting me here. What I've gathered is that we write twice a month and then share each other's work and support one another's ideas. I'm. So. In. Thank you for inviting me!

This month we are talking about building relationships (my favorite thing about teaching!) with students and teachers. But seriously though, I love being in education because of the relationships I get to have with kids and their families and teachers. Four of my closest friends are all connected to teaching and I have quite strong relationships with some very special former students. (Side note: One summer I worked for a family member from home. I was alone all day, every day and it was awful. I hope this can shed a little light about how I love to be with people!)

Building Relationships with Kids

We're Family

Especially to my homeroom, I always spoke of our kiddos and our homeroom as family, because it was true: we got along most of the time, we had fun, we annoyed each other, we got in disagreements, but we were there for each other. We were family and worked on building that each day we came to class. I always spoke of the kids on our team, and especially my little homeroom, as family.

Circle of Life

Named by my last homeroom, the Circle of Life was born. It was just a community meeting at the end of every week on Friday afternoons, except I made the kiddos sit in a circle on the floor. Even in my middle school classroom, I always had a large space in the front and center to meet as a group - to talk, to read, to discuss, to support. So, on Friday afternoons, we would sit in a circle and do appreciations and high/low. Appreciations are easy, and my best friend taught me high/low, where kids just share the high of their week and the low. Here's a video of my last homeroom (it's kinda hard to hear, but you get the idea!)

Watching that makes me totally miss kids and having my own class, so so much!

Some recommendations:
  • Use something (like that stuffed animal) to pass around so they take turns listening.
  • In the beginning, have them write something on a notecard so they are prepared and you can get this done in 5-10 minutes.
  • You can pass the animal around one-by-one so every has an opportunity, too, but allow the right to pass.
  • Be patient. This video was filmed in April of our second year together....they knew each other so well and were fine to say things they might not have shared early on.
  • Now that I'm rethinking, this would probably have been better at the beginning of the week to get them in a good place for a week, but either way, this homeroom loved each other!
Community Building Games
Anytime is a great time for games and activities to build community, especially at the start of the school year! There's the classics: Human Knot, Two Truths and a Lie, and Find Someone Who. There's also this really great game called Graduation that I have in one of my books at school - I need to get a copy for you all because I can't find one online!

The point is, you have to go slow to go fast. You have to take time to build trust among your students or they will not take risks in their learning. These activities, when done with the debriefing sessions afterwards, really help build that community that is vital to learning, so please, don't think it's all just silly games!

And when classroom management breaks down (and it will at some point), know it's okay to set the content aside and continue working to build trust with your kiddos. Even in my 10th year in the classroom, I still found myself in moments in the winter when I couldn't get management down, there was too much interrupting, or students weren't being respectful. Know that in those instances, you have to call a time-out, and get the trust and respect put back into your classroom community, or it will be a struggle each day to get the learning done. Even better: Schedule time every other week for some kind of community builder, just to not let it get to that breaking point!

Building Relationships with Staff

I'm about to embark on my third year as a literacy coach! Like everything else, it's been a work in progress, but one thing I wish I had known back then was the 1:1 meeting. The purpose of these meetings (two colleagues together for 1:1 talking time, no agendas) is to build their realationship and build trust. This idea came from Steve Zeleman, author of 13 Steps to Teacher Empowerment, and I just love it. Here's a definition as sited in the book, page 57:
An intentional, face to face, one to one meeting with another person to understand their interests, passions, and story, and to share your own, to explore trust with the other person and the possibility of a public relationship with them.... so you can act together on issues of common concern
He continues, with what a one-on-one meeting is not:

  • an opportunity to sell your ideas or to ask for help with a task or project
  • an occasion for chitchat
  • a search fro someone who agrees with your point of view
  • a search for friendships (Instead, it helps you build a public relationship, which is not the same as a private, personal friendship.)
Here are some possible questions to begin your conversations:
  • I'd like to learn more about how you came to teaching in the first place.
  • What are some goals that are important to you in your work?
  • I wonder whether any particular experiences led you to these goals?
Why use this strategy? It's a great way to build bridges with the people that you work with. Through these talks, you'll find so much information about each other and, more than likely, find lots of common ground to build on! I'm hoping to give this strategy a try this fall!

Definitely check out the book, too, which has lots of ideas leadership and coaching work!

What about you?
How do you build strong relationships with students and staff?
Leave a comment so we can keep the conversation going!

Feels so good to be back, friends! Happy Monday Tuesday! (Still don't know what day it is!) :-)


  1. Michelle, these are such great ideas about building relationships! I love the idea of a weekly community meeting, and it sounds like your students did, too. The heart of what we do is building relationships, because without them, we can't accomplish the greatness that is possible. Thanks for a practical and inspiring post!


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