It might seem like a waste of time to “sell” yourself, your content and your class to your students but in the brand and advertisement saturated world our students live in it just doesn’t hurt to throw in your own set of messages.
1. Pick a motto and put it on everything: I have used the Cesar Chavez quote “There is no substitute for hard work” for many years now. I have it in huge letters in the back of my classroom and I include it on top of all my handouts, exams, quizzes, etc. At the beginning of the year I introduce it by doing a mini-lesson on Chavez and talking about how earning a passing score on the International Baccalaureate history exam is just hard work and there is no easy way around it.
2. Use the same font for all printed materials: Consistancy with font allows students to find a piece of paper in their locker or at the bottom of their backpack and know that it is for your class. I think it’s probably best to go with something easy to read (I love Century Gothic) as opposed to something cutesy like Comic Sans.
3. Establish procedures for everything: Routine really does make students feel safe. When a child can predict what will happen next he or she will be more relaxed and ready to access higher levels of thinking. Many teachers more qualified than I have complied lists of all of the times in class where there should be a procedure but I wanted to highlight a few procedures I leverage for classroom investment as well:
- Homework is only due once a week (I like Wednesday or Thursday). This forces me to be thoughtful about what I assign, it respects my students time after school and it lets gives me time to enforce consequences if nothing gets turned in. I always break up the work into a suggested pacing guide so it isn’t done all on one night which teaches the skill of breaking up a big project over time.
- Have rhythm for the week. Always give quizzes/tests on Fridays (or whenever), read a current event article on Tuesdays, always show a cute dog picture on Monday, whatever.
- “Memorize me while you pee” was the brain child of my colleague Jackie Kroll. The idea is you have a clipboard with a sheet protector on it with a couple of facts or formulas or whatever you want students to memorize on it as a restroom pass. Students take it with them and in the hallway or bathroom they memorize it. They recite it back to you upon returning to the classroom and failure to do so means they lose restroom privileges for X amount of time.
4. Have a class song. Although I usually try to pick something close to the mainstream, I always pick something inspiration with central messages about overcoming or pushing forward or beating the odds. I make a big deal about introducing the song: I print the lyrics, have students reflect on them (either in writing or in groups or both) and then have some sort of visual connection to the song like a line from the song on the wall or an illustration of imagery from the song. In the past I’ve used Hannah Montana’s The Climb, the Flobots’ Rise, Matisyahu’s One Day, and Michael Franti’s Hey, Hey, Hey. This year I’m digging Nicki Minaj’s Fly.
5. Know your students and help them get to know each other. Use seating charts, student surveys and one-on-one conferences to get to know your students personally. Build in time to your day to help your students learn each others names, to affirm each other in a structured way and to laugh and have fun with each other. Use group projects, in-class presentations and jigsaw structures to help marry academic learning with interpersonal learning as well.
How do you create a sense of place and build culture in your classroom?