I try to always remember the reason why I started teaching. I love working with children, seeing them excited to learn, excited to engage in new learning, excited when they finally “get it,” and most importantly, being there for them. As teachers, we have such a strong influence on our children’s lives. I feel especially as a third grade teacher, I am partially shaping who these children are going to be in their future education and in their future community. This is why I am so passionate about building a strong community in my classroom. I do this in many ways: Morning Meeting every morning, Bucket fillers, Burke Bucks economy system, Peace Pals, etc. All of these practices take away from instruction time, but I think that it is important to develop these socio-emotional skills in my students so that they are prepared for their future. They are going to be a part of a democratic nation where they have to learn how to be good citizens by learning to collaborate and communicate with all people.
One practice that I start incorporating into my daily morning meeting is STAR student bands. At the beginning of the school year, I bought these cheap, simple band bracelets that say “Star Student.” Since I refer to my students as STARS because our classroom rules follow that mnemonic, I thought that these would be perfect to have in the classroom to recognize students that are showing Star behavior, effort, work, etc. I decided to implement them during our community building morning meetings.
At first I nominated three Star students that I recognized for being respectful, responsible, kind, showing effort, etc. Then I handed off the job to my students. I gave the job of picking future Star students to the current Star students. I told the students that they would reward the future Star students that get to wear the bands all day, but they would have to explain WHY. This is an important aspect of the exercise that students have done very well with. I was so impressed at the reasons students came up with for nominating Star students. They are saying that “this student has shown a growth mindset in class” or “I noticed this students was not talking during transition times and staying on task” or “this student is a STAR because they stood up for me during our soccer game at recess. I was finding out so much about my students and they were so excited to be recognized by their peers. Students sometimes pick their friends, but as we have been continuing this every day, students are picking various people that I would never guess they would choose. They are being thoughtful in the process and are feeling special. I smile every time we celebrate a new three Star students every morning. It is a five minute exercise that makes my students feel happy. It is the simple acknowledgements that makes a difference.
Sometimes I feel stressed to move on from these practices throughout my day because of the pressure of testing and standards that need to be covered. Many times in my past three years I skipped the community building activity so I could get to other learning activities. Yet, these moments with my students are the happiest parts of the day. These are the times that I sit back and say, wow I am making a difference. I truly love those moments with my kids and would not trade them for a good EOG score any day.