Classroom Culture: Making Memories & Building Bonds - Part 2
Updated: Feb 16
Hey there, WELCOME to my blog: Lights, Cameras, TEACH. I believe that just like an action-packed movie, a successful classroom needs a good director. Each post will share ideas about why I think it is essential to keep kids engaged in active learning and how to make the classroom a place where kids want to be.
With each blog post I publish, I reflect more and more about my own teaching practices and realize it's the small things we do as teachers have the biggest impact on classroom culture. In my previous post, I wrote about my second teaching nonnegotiable shared a little of what I do in the classroom to make memories and build bonds with my students. Creating a positive classroom culture can also happen outside of the classroom walls.
One thing that I used to do is take my class to the movies. Back in the day, I would read my class a novel that I knew was coming out as a motion picture. For many years, I've read and taken my class to see Bridge To Terabithia, Nim's Island, Holes, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Mr. Popper's Penguins, and, most recently, Wonder. The next day, we would get into great conversations about which was better, the book or the movie. The kids would almost always say the book!
About eight or nine years ago, during a math lesson on how to calculate tax and tip, we went off on a tangent (as usual) about our favorite local restaurants. My students started naming McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Wendy's as their favorites. This was a crisis! We had a 20-minute debate on the difference between a restaurant and a fast-food establishment. In the end, I told them we were all going to go to a restaurant together.
There was a catch; they had to agree to a few things: 1) They would each need to calculate the tip for their table. 2) Students would have to come dressed to impress. 3) Students would have to practice their presentation skills (soft skills, such as handshaking, proper etiquette, and holding conversations).
I immediately contacted the owner of a local restaurant that I dined at often and inquired about booking part of their restaurant for this experience. The owner was so supportive. She gave us the restaurant's backroom and created a special price-fixed menu (at a significant discount). I also invited the parents (who sat at separate "adult" tables). This was a fantastic way to build relationships, not just with my students, but with their families too.
Another fun activity that I would do with my class was taking them bowling. Again, I would contact the local bowling alley, explain that I was a teacher, and ask what type of package they could create. Agreeing to go at an off-peak time, they always offered me a discount, which usually 2 hours of unlimited bowling for 10 dollars a kid with shoe rental thrown in. This was another opportunity for kids to practice and showcase their presentation skills.
Leadership and presentation skills are something I, as a teacher, take very seriously. Those skills include manners, accepting and receiving constructive feedback, how to communicate and collaborate with peers and adults, and how to use technology responsibly. While I am confident that many students are being taught these skills at home, we can't assume it. I explain to parents at the beginning of the year that these skills are part of my curriculum and will be practiced throughout the year.
And yes, do we practice it. One of the resources I use is from Adam Dovico. In his book, The Limitless School, Adam describes his acronym, S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Each letter stands for a skill students are expected to demonstrate. Check out his book and webpage for more about how Adam has used SPECIAL to create school leaders.
One other thing that I usually do to celebrate the ending of the year is taking the kids to minute golfing/go-karting or laser tag. I would set up the arrangements ahead of time and would usually be able to get the entire complex for 2 hours. Kids loved this. Their families (siblings included) were invited, and we would end the night with ice-cream. This event was also used to celebrate the winning house. Next week, I will talk about the house system I use in my class, which is my third non-negotiable: classroom management.
Since moving to sunny California, I've taken my class hiking. What I love about this is that it's free and easy to do on a Saturday or Sunday morning. I have the students and their parents meet me at the base of the trail. We hike up the hill together, hike back down, and then part ways. This is great because it's free and only takes about an hour.
Back in New York, I would take my students to NYC. I worked in the suburbs of Long Island, about an hour east of Manhattan. Some years, I would invite students and their parents to meet me in Manhattan to see a Broadway show or visit a museum. After studying immigration, I would offer a trip to the Statue of Liberty. On next week's episode of my podcast (episode 7), I am hosting a parent who went on that trip who will be sharing a funny story about two things that happened.
These shared experiences don't just create lasting memories but solidify and deepen the bonds between students and parents. These are the things that they are going to remember when they are older—the crazy teacher who took them to do something different.
For several reasons, you may not be able to do these things with your class. However, you don't need to leave the classroom to create something special. If you can't go to the movies, you can bring a movie in. I know teachers who have gotten permission to do an after-school movie in their classroom or in a shared space such as a gym or school library. The same can be done with a game like bowling. If you can't dine out at a restaurant, maybe a parent or a group of parents can host a dinner or lunch at their house. Before I started taking my students to a restaurant, I had a family host the class for a potluck lunch. Rather than going for a hike, maybe take students on a before school or after school walk around the school grounds. Think outside of the box. Your students will love anything extra you do for them!
In addition to taking my class places, I've also been invited to attend various events. I've gone to student's sports games, birthday parties, and even dinner at my students' homes. I love seeing my students in their own environment. I always feel honored to be invited to students' homes. The students get excited to show me their homes and rooms. Once, a student and his/her parents invited my parents and me to dinner at their home. It was a lot of fun, and my parents got a kick out of it.
If you choose to do any of these things, I have a little advice. First, I always have students bring a parent or guardian. I make it clear that these events are not associated with school and are entirely voluntary. I remind students that we all have busy schedules and that if they cannot attend, there will be another opportunity to participate in something. I like having parents there. One, it's for my own protection, and two, it helps strengthen the home-school connection. The relationships I form with parents during these activities are just as and sometimes even more important than those I form with the students. Earning the trust and support of students' parents is essential for a successful school year.
1) Is there something new you can do outside the classroom to help create memories and build bonds?
2) Are there local businesses that would support you in bringing your class for a special activity?
3) What lessons do you teach that can be extended beyond the walls of your classroom?
4) Are you able to get parents to help you organize something outside of the classroom?
5) What are some little things you can do to make a significant impact on your students outside the walls of your classroom?
In episode 6 of my podcast, I interview the amazing Adam Dovico. He chats with me about classroom culture, student leadership, and his newest book coming out later this year. Check out Lights, Cameras, TEACH anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or check out my website at www.thekevinjbutler.com
Until next time, thanks for reading!