As school begins, classroom teachers spend precious time nurturing a positive classroom community. Although there are opportunities throughout the day to build community, one of my personal favorites was just before sending students out the door at the end of the day. Using an activity called A Pat on the Back, from the book Creating a Learner-centred Primary Classroom, by Kath Murdoch and Jeni Wilson, my class loved to end the day recognizing and celebrating one another.
Allowing about ten minutes between the final classroom cleanup and the rush to gather backpacks and lunchboxes, I would gather my students in a circle on the floor. I started things off by saying something like, "I'd like to give Michael a pat on the back for being a careful listener today" or "I'd like to give Tessa a pat on the back for sharing her book with McKenzie today." After demonstrating the activity by offering a few pats on the back, I would say to the class, "Would any of you like to give someone a pat on the back?" At that point the magic began! The children were all eager to offer their "pats" to each other. The kindness and thoughtfulness that followed always amazed me as my students were careful to include everyone. There were comments like, "I'd like to give Amy a pat on the back for being a good friend," or "I'd like to give Sammy a pat on the back for not giving up when math was hard today."
In addition to building a sense of community, the heartwarming moments also allowed time to build the all important skills of listening and speaking. It was a time to demonstrate how to take turns speaking. Their first inclination was to raise their hands, but I quickly explained that I would not be calling on them. It was their opportunity to have a conversation with each other without looking to me. They learned to take turns. They learned to listen and respond. They also learned to invite those who seldom spoke to take a turn by saying something like, "Ben, would you like a turn?"
The most difficult part of the activity was bringing it to a close while children had more to say. I tried to end each session with a group pat on the back for the class like, "I'd like to give the whole class a pat on the back for working together to make our day wonderful!" Regardless of any difficulties or struggles throughout the day, the children always left the circle feeling valued and cared for. What a perfect ending to draw our day to a close!
The first few weeks of school are critical for setting the tone for the year. A Pat on the Back is just one way to build a strong sense of community in your classroom. Moments spent now will come back to repay you for months to come!
I Like Ants from How About You? by John Farrell