I’ve been in my grade 8 class for three weeks now.  In a way, these past weeks have felt like the longest weeks of my life, and yet, they have flown by so fast that I can’t even believe it’s been three weeks already?!  There have been days when I’ve gone home with a sore throat from talking, talking, talking all day long.  There have been days when I’ve gone home and crashed on the living room floor as soon as I walk in the door (oh wait, that’s every day…) There have been days when I have sent desperate text messages to my wise, experienced teacher friends begging them for advice.  There have been days when I have questioned what exactly the heck I am doing teaching grade 8.  My days with this class have been challenging, exhausting and sometimes downright frustrating…but these kids have already got me wrapped around their little fingers in a good way. This week, so far, I’ve left school feeling energized and enthusiastic about the next day.  My throat has not been sore from talking and my spirits have been high.  Some might say it’s because I’m getting used to these students and that might be a correct assumption, but I think it has more to do with the fact that we are finally starting to build community in our classroom.

Last Wednesday’s post was an honest writing from my heart where I expressed my fears for this year; more specifically, my fear that my grade 8 students will not learn anything this year if we don’t start creating community in our classroom.  Since last Wednesday I’ve talked to some of my educational mentors (lucky for me they happen to be lovely friends of mine, too!), watched some video clips, read some articles and blog posts and have done a tremendous amount of planning for my students.  Building community has been the topic of focus for all the talking, watching, reading and planning I’ve done as of late.  This is what we have been up to in the past week when it comes to community building:
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comm4A few examples of some beautifully written Feel Good Friday notes.  This past Friday was our third FGF, but only the second time my students have been the writers of the anonymous notes (I wrote the first FGF notes for my class in order to demonstrate how the activity works).  I’ve discovered that while my class might not be the kindest human beings when it comes to the spoken word, they are exceptionally kind when they dedicate their words to a specific person and write them down.  Beauty!

Last weekend I read a blog post from Mike McKay about being aware of, and taking care of, students’ social and emotional needs.  After reading his post I couldn’t help but say out loud, “this is exactly what I needed to read right now!”  While reading I found myself agreeing (out loud, because I’m weird like that) with every point that was made (especially because I’m still pretty fresh out of University).  One quote that really resonated with me was the final piece of the post:

This quote has been on our white board for three days now. My class and I have talked about what it looks like to succeed and fail gracefully, thoughtfully and productively. This morning each student was assigned a word and given a flash card. We made our colourful version of Mike McKay's quote to post along our wall.
This quote has been on our white board for three days now. My class and I have talked about what it looks like to succeed and fail gracefully, thoughtfully and productively. This morning each student was assigned a word and given a flash card. We made our colourful version of Mike McKay’s quote to post along our wall.

In addition to all these uplifting and comforting words, we also started a new Mellow Monday Morning tradition to help support our community building efforts. Why, you might ask?  Well, let me tell you.  Mondays in my class (actually, Mondays in my entire school) tend to be insane.  Students cannot focus or sit or stand or listen or talk or do much of anything because they are too busy doing all of those things at the same time.  My students come in from their weekend highs and lows and simply have a very difficult time getting back into the routine of school (yes, every single week).  I’ve noticed my class is almost, dare I say it, “unteachable” on Mondays.  This needs to change because, unfortunately for us, Monday is actually a very heavily loaded academic day.  During the past few weeks we have accomplished next to nothing academic on Mondays which means, according to my unit plans, we are now a week behind in every subject.  My planner focused-ueber organized-work hard little teacher heart nearly skipped a nervous beat when I consulted my unit plans last weekend and realized that we were…already falling behind.  And then a little chat with a good teacher friend made me rethink Mondays in my class.

This past Monday I pulled a bold move and I cancelled science (our first block of the day, every single day).  My students were thrilled that science was cancelled!  They were also thrilled with what replaced science that day…Fika!

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That’s right.  Instead of learning about organs and organ systems, we drank tea together, we ate oranges together and we ate flax covered cookies together (just don’t tell them the cookies were covered in flax…joke’s on you, kids!)  I let my grade 8s come into class and talk with each other while preparing a cup of tea for themselves.  I took some time to connect with my students and joined in on their weekend-based conversations.  One of my all time favourite pastimes is going for coffee with friends (essentially exactly what “Fika” is).  Making time to Fika with my class was exactly what my class needed this past Monday…in fact, one of my most challenging students high fived me (cup of tea in hand) and said, “Mrs. Alleyn, this is the BEST way to start the week!” If this wasn’t enough convincing that community is what my class needs, I don’t know what is.

From now on, we will be having Fika together every single Monday.  I’m not that concerned about cancelling either part or all of the science block on Mondays…my students are in desperate need of some connection and some community and without those basic needs being met we won’t learn anything in science, anyhow.  As we ease into Fika I plan to start some “video log” lessons based around our various science topics, but that’s all in due time.  For now, we’re just going to continue creating community.

To wrap up this post I want to share with you all that during the past few days I’ve heard only a few “shut ups” in my class (one of our biggest issues).  Most of the time I don’t even need to Grand Master Stare my way into those conversations anymore because as soon as the words come out, the culprit is already covering his/her mouth and apologizing.  In addition to this, I’ve heard my class correcting the language of their classmates, parroting my phrase, “There is a kinder way to say that!”  I love it.  We are getting there, one day at a time.

Karley