3 Ways to Help Students Become Active Members of Your Classroom Community or Feel Included

Feeling included is so important in today's society. There are so many ways teachers can achieve this. I have chosen to focus on 3 ways to help students become active members of of your classroom community and feel included.  I KNOW you WILL LOVE #3...well actually all 3!

When Robin Williams played Lance Clayton in "World's Greatest Dad" in 2009, one of his lines read:

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone."

This quote made me think of some of the children we teach daily in our classrooms. Children who are there with everyone around them, but may not feel included or may feel all alone and self conscious around others.

So with that in mind, here are a few ideas to help encourage children to feel included and not disconnected from their peers.

1. Morning Meetings:  Having a Morning Meeting or Circle Time everyday encourages children to feel included in the classroom community and that they are important and valued.

A Morning Meeting or Circle Time can consist of a greeting where children greet each other with a smile, wink, handshake, elbow shake, silly voice etc.; a sharing time where children share a special moment or news; an activity or quick game that encourages working together; such as, Charades, One different, Pass the Football and any game that promotes building community, which really is most whole class games.

Last, include a class message to which can be used as a mini lesson to introduce language arts and math skills and strategies.

2.  Mailbox:  I have a mailbox in my classroom and I encourage children to write notes to me or draw pictures.

As they finish their work they put it in my mailbox and close the door so I know there is mail in it. (You can also use a basket, decorated shoebox or any container you might have.)

After opening the letters and or pictures, I post the pictures on my "Photo Wall" and put the letters in a basket on my desk.

Of course I make sure to tell how much I love the picture or letter! 

Children love to write letters and draw pictures.  Let's face it, the letter writing is a great way to encourage children to write.

One day when I opened my mailbox I found a letter in the mailbox. It read:

"Dear Mis Simson, Iam having trubl macking frends.  Can you halp me? luv,_______" 

The letter broke my heart!  I chatted with her privately and together we came up with a plan for her to have a recess buddy to make her feel included and we also had some role playing during Morning Meeting on how to make friends.

Soon after I received another letter that read:  "Thank you for halping me. I hav lots of frends and fell happe!"

This tiny gesture of having a place where children can express their feelings through writing made a difference.  It gave children a safe place to express their feelings in a private way!

I used an outdoor metal mailbox and decorated it!

3. Strengths:
Sometimes children, who walk through your doors, may display some behavioral or social issues.  However, you CAN make a difference!

Find something that is positive about each child that enters your classroom and focus on it.

If you teach first or second grade, these children have only been on this earth 6-8 years! That is not very long. They are just learning how to cope with and make sense of the world around them.  

One year I had a child who had difficulty with socialization. She would exclude herself from all group activities. However, this same child was an extraordinary artist. Her pictures were amazing. I encouraged her to draw pictures for me and then I would hang them on my wall.  The other children began to notice them and compliment her on her drawings.  She became known as the class artist and everyone wanted her to draw pictures for them. A boost of confidence? Absolutely! Did she feel included? Of course!

One more short story. I also had a child who always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time...sound familiar? '

He got into fights on the playground, was loud, pushed, and eventually became a child that I received many notes and phone calls about from parents.

One day I had a thought...which happens now and then....I was reading with him in Guided Reading and I asked him if he might want to be our guest reader on Friday.

Usually this spot was reserved for parents, but no one was scheduled on this Friday. I asked him to pick his favorite book and he could read it to the class.  When Friday came, he was so excited! I Prayed that he would not have a bad day and wind up suspended, which he had been in the past...not a usual occurrence for first grade!

The afternoon came and he was still in my class...PHEW...so far so good.   He made it through specials, lunch and recess without a problem. It was time for guest reader and everyone was so surprised and a bit excited when I told them who it was!

There they were staring at our friend wide-eyed and ready to listen! They sat as quiet as mice listening to him read and read he did...expression, inflection, and even asked questions as he read. ( Oh my! I guess he really did pay attention when I read aloud!) After he read, his classmates raised their hands and asked questions about the story, but they also asked questions like, "How did you learn to read so good? "Can we partner read a story together sometime?"

Yes, he was now viewed as a great reader and children began to ask him to read things they could not or to help with spelling a word and to work together. 

I wish I could say that this solved all his problems, but it did do something...it made him feel included and I did see a difference in his behavior...actually a HUGE difference. We still had behavioral chats and he and I became "best buds"...he knew I cared and he really did try his best and really what else could a teacher ask for?

I bump into him once in a while and he gives me a huge smile and hug...actually he is almost as tall as I am now!!

So as your students walk through your classroom door,  I am asking you to find something positive about each child, dwell on the strengths they have, make them feel good about who they are and make them active members of your classroom community!  It will make a difference!