How do you know you are doing a good job teaching? I’m a kindergarten teacher and while I have standards to guide me, my measure of success is when my students just love being at school. Experience has taught me that this happens when I create a classroom environment that makes my students excited about learning. My motto: each day in my classroom is the B.E.S.T. Day Ever. I focus on four things to help me maintain this mindset every single day. Here’s what I do to make every day the best day ever for students.
Relationships are key. This is the starting line for building a classroom environment that kids want to be a part of. To start a healthy relationship, I want my students to feel as comfortable as possible when they enter my classroom for the first time. One week before school starts, I ask the parents to send me a picture of their child. For the week prior to school starting, I study those names and faces until I have them memorized. This allows me to start our first meeting together with, “Hello Chloe! Welcome to our classroom!” rather than, “Hi. I’m your teacher, Mr. Peterson; what’s your name?” That seems like a minor step towards a relationship with students, but making your students feel visible can have a bigger impact than you could ever imagine.
When the guitar, lights, and music I use in my classroom didn’t capture one of my student’s attention, I knew I needed to find a way to engage him somehow. The answer I found was Pokemon. Why, you ask? Because that is all he wanted to talk about for the first week of school! So, I brought a Pokemon theme into our classroom the following week. We used Pokemon to do our letter and sound practice. We sorted Pokemon characters to learn about shapes and colors through sorting Pokemon characters based on those attributes. Remember that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to engaging your learners. Novelty is key, and novelty can be as simple as some clipart, construction paper, and the addition of kid’s interests to the planned activities.
Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone
I wanted to end our week of Pokemon-themed fun with a bang and celebrate the amazing week we had, so I figured dressing up like famed Pokemon trainer, Ash, was the best way to do this. Weird looks from older students and a lot of questions from my colleagues didn’t stop me from stepping out of my comfort zone and taking my students on a Pokemon hunt throughout our school. Did I look absolutely ridiculous? Yes! But were my students having the time of their lives? Yes, yes, yes! I’m not going to lie; it really was a fun day of celebration regardless of the way I may have looked. A costume isn’t a necessary addition to your teacher wardrobe, but stepping out of your comfort zone can be the addition you need to spark some excitement.
Some of the most important things our children need to learn aren’t things we can find in big box curriculums. My mentor teacher taught me this lesson very early on in my career, and it has stuck with me ever since. I make it a point to focus on things that will help my students become the best people they can be. I know this seems easier said than done, but I can assure you from experience that while these expectations seem like simple things to implement, they can create very positive outcomes for your classroom and school culture.
Respect, putting others before themselves, speaking politely, and showing empathy are essential skills I teach and encourage from day one. These expectations lead to another important lesson I teach to my students called Be The Yellow. This is a movement I started in memory of my mentor teacher to bring awareness to the importance of teaching our children to be kind human beings. It is a project I am very passionate about and love to share with schools everywhere. You can find more about this movement in my TEDx talk titled “Be The Yellow.”
Creating the B.E.S.T. day ever may seem like a long shot in the trials of teaching in the 2020-2021 school year. But I encourage you to continue thinking outside the box and create learning experiences for your students that they will remember forever and have them saying, “This is the best day ever!”
Want to learn more about my approach? You can find me, videos, my book, and all kinds of resources here.