Back to School: Building Community in Week 1

This post by Todd Diehl originally ran at the Metta Center for Nonviolence.

It’s almost time to go back to school! As Dr. Gabor Mate explains, “Educators should be in the emotional attachment business before they are in the academics business.”

Before you can even think about teaching your students, you have to give them a reason to appreciate your class. In other words, students won’t care about what you teach until you show them you are a teacher who cares. Today I would like to share with you what practices I use to start the school year off with with compassion, empathy, and nonviolence.

Names

I begin the year by making sure every student in the class knows the names of every other student. We do name games, name challenges, and take a names quiz to make sure they get it right. It’s important to build community because knowing names helps rehumanizes and renews connections to other people. What’s more, it helps you for the rest of the year because the students work together to learn each others’ names at the start. I take the quiz with them, usually on the first Friday after classes begin.

Values

Instead of an exhaustive list of rules, I have a list of six values: Awareness, Honor, Audacity, Perseverance, Quality, and Community. We spend time defining and exploring what it means to live by these values. We also talk about the opposite, or lack of, the values (EX: the lack of Awareness is distraction). Then I use them as a basis for my classroom management. If the students are not emulating the values, we have a discussion about how they can do better. I give awards every semester for the student who most demonstrated each of the values. You are welcome to choose values that you believe in; the most important thing of all is that YOU model and live by the value you choose.

Team-Building

If you show your students at the start of the year that they can work together on challenges, fun games, and other team-building activities, they will have success throughout the year when they learn the material you are teaching: especially if you use a similar format where they learn cooperatively. Feel free to engage in team-building activities throughout the year as well when students have flagging morale.

I hope these tips help you start off the year with nonviolence! These are some first steps to help students see you are a teacher who cares, and that other students in the class care about them.