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A Fresh Start: 4 Ways to Foster a Sense of Belonging


A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don't function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. 
                                                                                              -Brene Brown



It's the start of a new school year, and I'm excited and anticipating another great adventure...the smell of new crayons, a new drawer of neon post-its, a rainbow of Flair pens, my pages of idealistic lesson plans, and my new kids. The beginning of a new school year is my favorite time of year, and I suspect it's part of the reason that autumn is my favorite season. It's a fresh start. For everyone. 

It's a fresh start for school-loving kiddos who come to school so ironed and perfect that I suspect their underwear was probably starched and pressed. It's also a fresh start for the kid who walks in wearing a threadbare t-shirt and holey jeans. You know the type. The kid who drums constantly. The one who, a month into the school year, you can tell what kind of day you're going to have by the way his hair is standing up on the back of his head. The fifth grade girl who comes perfectly coiffed, but has so much insecurity coursing in her veins that it takes your breath away. It's a fresh start for those kids, too. 

Every classroom management guru will tell you that the most important thing you can do is to form relationships with your students. It's vital for their emotional well-being and their learning.
Children need to belong. The despair and isolation felt by some of our kids is heartbreaking. So how will I foster a sense of belonging in my new classroom this year? How will I give my kids a fresh start? One starfish at a time. Remember that story?

'...there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!'...the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said 'It made a difference for that one.' 

In the first month of school, I have lunch with every child in my classroom. It's a private lunch. I give each child an invitation. The day of the lunch, I set out placemats for us. I provide a sweet treat for dessert, usually cookies. My student brings his/her hot or sack lunch to the classroom. I have my lunch with me. We eat together and talk. That's it. Nothing earth shattering. But it kind of is. 

I've seen the most challenging students bask in the one-on-one attention.  They want to be liked by me. They want to feel that connection. THIS WORKS. Seriously. 

If you haven't tried this yet, please think about it. It's a game changer. You can snag some free invitations for this here

We all do back-to-school projects. We do them for a reason. They help us observe our students doing different tasks, they give our kids a chance to communicate about themselves, and if they're well thought out, they can give our students a sense of belonging. 

I do a writing/art project with my students called "Where I Belong." We begin by reading about Australian Aboriginal peoples. This gives me a chance to watch my students interacting with nonfiction text. We use a visible thinking routine to think through the article. They write a summary of the short informational article I provide them. Then we begin to talk about where we feel a sense of belonging. This concept of belonging is intrinsic for Aboriginal peoples. 

We brainstorm a list of places and then practice stretching the details of our list, until students have written a poem about where they belong. 

Finally, we create a piece of artwork to go with our belonging poems. The artwork is associated with the informational article we read about Aboriginal rock art and the significance of hand prints. When we share with each other, we do so in a popcorn style. 

We stand around the room in a big circle. One person begins by reading a line from his/her poem. Someone else jumps in when they feel like it, reading one line. Then another, and another. What occurs is a whole class improvised poem about belonging. It's a goosebump moment. Afterward, we display our poems and artwork for the school to enjoy. 





You can find the "Where I Belong" project below. Click on the picture to see it in more detail. 






Last year, I tried something daring. I was looking for an alternative recess idea. I wanted something that would appeal to many, that I could handle on a weekly basis, and that might break down the playground social barriers. I discovered a yoga resource for kids. 
I purchased the resource and printed and laminated it. I invited my kids to bring yoga mats to school, but I kept a few extras in case some didn't have access to one.  I created five stations around my classroom. Each station consisted of about 5-6 yoga poses and breathing exercises. Students rotated through the stations in 3 minute intervals. When the chimes went off on my phone timer, they moved to a new yoga station.

I began the session by reviewing the poses and breathing. Then, they rotated through the stations on their own. Sometimes, we played soft instrumental music. My kids ate it up, boys and girls! Some even chose to miss important recess soccer or basketball games in order to do yoga. My kids had a common goal: To do yoga together once a week! Our afternoons were calmer, as was their lunchroom behavior, and they interacted with students who weren't necessarily in their posse.
This yoga product isn't my own creation, but it's one of my favorite TpT discoveries. You can access it here.



The fourth thing I use to build community and a sense of belonging in my students is called The Gift of Gab. Every Monday morning, we sat in a circle on the carpet to share about our weekends. However, there was a catch. You could only share using one word! Check out the poster below to see how it works.

My students begged for this every Monday morning. It became one of our traditions. It helped me take their emotional temperatures after their weekend lives. They enjoyed the time to gab with each other, and we reviewed nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs! More importantly, they learned how to listen to each other respectfully. 
You can grab The Gift of Gab resource for free. Just click on the picture below. 


I wish you the best fresh start this school year, and I hope it's filled with a sense of wonder, community, and belonging.  Happy Back to School!


1 comment

  1. Relationship building and trust between students and teachers is vital! Great post!

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