California Educator

August 2016

Issue link: http://educator.cta.org/i/712197

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Educators delighted students with their moves during an unexpected flash mob. o f c o m m u n i ty i n t h e c l a s sr o o m w i t h team-building activities. Student groups competed to see who could make the lon- gest paper chains, and wrote something positive about their classmates on each link. Other groups held scavenger hunts with clues about math, science or reading. And then there was the staff flash mob, when educators unexpectedly got up and danced in the school yard, much to the delight of students. NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL With teamwork as their theme, school staff transformed a boring back-to-school rou- tine into a high-energy event. e goal was to set a positive tone for the new school year, and make students and staff more connected so they could interact better and do their best work. "It really did pay off, because student b e h a v i o r w a s b e tt e r t h r o u g h o u t t h e whole year," comments Assistant Princi- pal Christa Glembocki, who worked with staff to roll out the red carpet for students. " Teach ers agreed that kid s were more respectful of each other this year. Teachers got more done without always having to stop and reprimand students." e new approach was also part of the school's participation in Capturing Kids' Hearts, a Texas-based program that fosters achievement by strengthening students' connection to classmates and teachers. "By doing things differently, we got to know our kids right from the beginning, and maybe even more importantly, they got to know us," says Brandee Lara, a physical education teacher. " We did games that helped the students learn each other's names and a fun fact or two about every person in the room. It really lightened the back-to-school blues for many of the kids. roughout the year, we were able to revisit these tools and build on them and form even closer relationships, because we laid down a foundation of trust." S c i e n c e i n s t r u c t o r Ma r y G o n z a l e s agrees. "Relationships take time to build, and educational research strongly suggests that strong teacher connections to students increase students' outcomes," Gonzales says. "I firmly believe that by strengthening our connections, we provided our students with a huge leg up to success." IMPROVING CULTURE BY THE BOOK Utt students read a back-to-school book, Bystander, by James Preller. Interactive classroom read-alongs sparked school- wide dialogue, and raised awareness that students who stand by and do nothing while bullies go after others are condon- ing such behavior. "It brought kids together, because we all had a new perspective on how other kids might feel if they are bullied," says Savan- nah orn, an eighth-grader last year. "e book offered multiple perspectives about how students feel, and having everyone reading it made our school a better place by increasing understanding." Gonzales found that the book continued to spark discussion over the school year, enhancing the overall school environment. "Because of the book, I became closer with my students, and they felt able to come to me with their concerns. Students understood that teachers are here to support them." This year, Utt's " book in common" will be Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, about a girl who hides her dyslexia to try to fit into school. A FRESH START Students may walk into the first day of the school year carrying anxiety from past failures, or worrying about making new friends or fitting in. " We want ed students at Utt to have a fresh start," explains science teacher Tess Karol. " We want to help them to develop a positive mindset to accomplish their goals. Students who feel safe and valued and have a sense of belonging will be much more likely to find success." The investment in building commu- nity was well worth it, says Karol , who is pleased that her school will welcome students in the same manner when they return August 30. " Fi r st i m p re s si o n s l a st , s o l e t 's n o t bore them to death the first day by dis- c u s si n g t h e sy l l a b u s f o r f iv e t o s e v e n p erio d s in a row," say s Karo l . " We can do better than that." Teachers Tess Korol and Kiara Moreno created positive messages with chalk drawings. 23 August 2016

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