Establishing Classroom Culture at the Beginning of the School Year.

As a parent, it may seem like nothing important happens during the first week of school. 

Kids play games, sing songs, paint, go camping, and have extra recess – where’s the math and spelling? 

Why aren’t teachers worried about “the summer slide”? 

Don’t be fooled – the kids are doing much deeper work than you think. 

The teachers are strategically laying a solid foundation for the rest of the school year. 

 

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  

– Benjamin Franklin

 

The first week of school is so much more than games and outdoor playtime –  the first week is full of purposefully planned activities and experiences that set the tone for a healthy, productive school year for your child. It’s the ounce of prevention you didn’t know your child needed.

 

three elementary school students exploring nature and building community

Why Activities in the First Week of School Are Imperative

 

Your child and their friends are returning to school with a wide variety of experiences from summer. Some students attended camps, clubs, sports, and numerous adventures. Other students stayed home most of the summer due to financial or other restrictions. 

These disparities can create jealousy and resentment between students. These feelings negatively impact students’ ability to bond together as a cohesive group. 

Students who have no shared experiences have less reason to build new friendships, and this can later impact group work and classroom culture. 

The good news is, students can overcome their summer distance and differences and become a collaborative, cooperative group early in the school year. 

Elementary students writing in their journals outside

Students benefit from intentional guidance from the teachers and school staff. 

 

Providing a week of adventures and short, meaningful education sessions to students allows teachers to create a positive classroom culture quickly. 

Your child isn’t just playing games and making crafts to keep them occupied. Your child is establishing friendships, creating bonds, and building trust with the people they’re going to be interacting with for the next 8 months. 

Teachers could start right into lessons and hope students can get to know and trust each other during short recesses, but by providing a week full of memorable, team-building experiences, teachers are fast-tracking the team-building and connections in their classrooms. 

 

Establishing Positive School Culture The First Week of School

 

Positive classroom culture is an environment where students feel safe and free to be involved. It’s a place where everyone feels included and accepted in everything.

Establishing the classroom culture and providing a foundation for students at the beginning of the year reduces many issues, conflicts, and misunderstandings between students as well as teachers. 

The classroom culture reflects the school’s mission, vision, and values. 

elementary school students sitting outside overlooking Lake ChelanYour student sees the school values and mission in action as the teachers work together, work hard, communicate, and respect each other and students. 

Getting students to buy-in to the classroom community results in ownership of learning and a strong sense of self. Your student is not simply attending school to have a teacher “talk at them”. They are a valued component of the educational experience, and what they think and say matters

Even hesitant students are wrapped up in the experiences and begin to open up and form new friendships within the school. They meet all the staff through the different activities. Your student starts building trust and respect – because they feel they are trusted, respected, and valued

Students no longer show up to school with their own agendas and needs as the only thing in their minds – students develop a sense of belonging and responsibility in their school

Students who feel accepted and valued as meaningful members of the school community are more open to learning new concepts and information. This paves the way to healthy energy in the classroom and collaborative learning.

 

Welcoming New Students into a Small School

 

Each year, students and teachers form close bonds through shared experiences. Year after year, these bonds grow, so how can new students jump into these small classrooms without feeling like an outsider? 

The intentional, purposeful activities and experiences are the answer to welcoming new students into the school. The first week of school is an opportunity to welcome everyone to the new school year, and build group dynamics from the ground up – no matter how many or few new students there are.

Being new in a school is a pretty intimidating experience. 

 

In some schools, the teacher may introduce the new student or have them introduce themselves. The class is told to make the new student feel welcome and the rest is left to luck. 

At Roots, we build a culture of acceptance and collaboration which prepares all students to be open and welcoming. 

Creating a collaborative environment, where expectations are clearly established helps new students know the boundaries and routines faster. Veteran students can easily explain and demonstrate the school expectations to a new student because they have learned it and live it daily.

elementary school kids outside dancing in a circle and playing during team building activities

Building Community In The Classrooms

 

During the first week of school, teachers and students spend time developing an understanding of community. Activities are focused on learning what community is, and also what a healthy community looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Your student doesn’t have to know everything before they get here – they’ll learn together through the activities and experiences. 

Respect, Participation, Listening, Collaboration

Students are expected to respect each other (even if they don’t agree with another person’s opinion), listen to each other, and participate in group activities and discussions. 

Participation is an important and often overlooked aspect of classroom dynamics. Students are all expected to be active in classroom discussions. Opinions and input are valued and respected, so students are motivated to share more in the future. Teachers create a safe space by coaching students to agree, disagree, and correct others mindfully. 

Group activities and projects are excellent opportunities to learn how to interact, disagree, and problem-solve with other people. When mistakes happen, or students give a wrong answer, there’s an opportunity to model how to respectfully disagree.

At Roots, we foster an environment of curiosity and celebrate the learning that occurs through mistakes. 

We expect to have students who love to answer questions and tell stories. We also expect to have students who won’t say a word unless called on.

two elementary students. one small and one tall, holding hands during a school community activity.

 

Teaching teamwork and interaction skills reduce the potential for the conversation to be dominated by only a few students. It also encourages students who would otherwise fade into the background – never taking ownership of their value as peers and fellow learners. 

We encourage hesitant students to find their voice, and we encourage outgoing students to express themselves and also take time to listen to others. You know which category your child fits into, and you can be sure they will experience personal growth and develop new skills. 

As students internalize their responsibility as classroom community members, there is a natural shift away from bullying or belittling. Respect, listening, and participation are building blocks for a successful group and a successful school year.

 

Connecting Activities With The School’s Core Values

 

Many activities in the first week are connected to the Roots Community School’s core values, mission, and vision. Students must understand what the mission, vision, and core values mean and how it affects their actions daily. Understanding the core values of the school helps students understand the teacher’s expectations. 

Read the Mission, Vision, and Core Values statements on the home page. (Scroll down to below the “Learn More” button)  

Students enjoy many fun activities during the first week of school, and teachers tie these activities and lessons back to the school’s values and culture. 

Community service projects include picking up trash in public parks, distributing cards or crafts to local businesses, or visiting senior centers. Students are also encouraged to begin to look after each other in simple ways – such as reminding a friend to bring a water bottle, or sharing a book recommendation. 

The first week of school usually includes a camping trip with hands-on learning experiences, all-school games, team-building challenges, and plenty of free time to allow natural friendships to form and deepen. 

Outside in the grass at the state park, the elementary and middle school are sitting in chairs listening to the director read a book.

Ask any student who’s attended a campout – it’s a blast. 

Teachers watch for students who are isolating themselves, and they quietly encourage other students to notice and reach out to them. Teachers also see how groups are forming and how this will have an impact on their classroom for the year. Teachers can catch bullying tendencies or negative interactions early and help students learn to interact more positively. 

Even simple tasks like weaving bracelets, hiking, and completing scavenger hunts allow students to get to know each other, form friendships, help each other, encourage each other, and challenge themselves. 

Teachers could read a list of core values to the students – but learning core values through experiences fosters a much deeper sense of understanding. Students can apply their knowledge of core values and school rules to real-life situations.

 

Becoming Positive Role Models In and Out of School 

 

Students and staff are encouraged to demonstrate these core values in their daily interactions within the school and outside the school walls. Truly understanding the foundation of our school helps students and families have common ground to build a great school year. 

Students are expected to uphold these behavior standards throughout the year, so why would we not spend ample time helping them understand and internalize these core values right away?  

Creating a strong community in the school, establishing and expecting elevated behavior is imperative to a successful school year. The key is setting high expectations clearly, demonstrating that adults and students alike are held to this high standard, and giving students the tools they need to meet those expectations. But don’t worry – mistakes happen, we fall short, and we learn from our mistakes and grow. 

The first week of school was not a waste of time. 

The games, field trips, crafts, and adventures are not just a way to fill the days until students are ready to dive into academics. 

The first week of school includes intentionally planned activities and learning experiences. It is an imperative time to create a strong foundation for the year as well as a strong community known as Roots Community School. Your student will undoubtedly jump in and quickly become part of our school community and culture. 

We are able to provide these learning experiences and enrichment opportunities to students because of our generous sponsors and donors. We strive to keep tuition affordable to be able to enroll a variety of students.

DEDICATED TO CONNECTING THE JOY OF LEARNING TO EVERYDAY LIFE. 

Roots school students and families all in camp chairs during the school community building campout

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