Teaching is more than just a curriculum framework. It is about building relationships and the social and emotional skills of our students too. This is part one of a three part series about how social-emotional learning (SEL) opportunities help students grow, and specific ideas to help make that happen in your class.
Part 1: Starting the Day Right
Near the beginning of my teaching career, my Principal made a pronouncement at our first staff meeting of the school year. He told us that we needed to stand at our doors from the moment the students started arriving until the first bell rang so we could greet our students. As a school community, we had not done that before. All of the teachers started looking around at each other and the small talk began as soon as we started walking down the hall at the conclusion of our meeting.
“I can’t believe this,” groaned Teacher 1. “Not ANOTHER thing to do!”
Teacher 2 mumbled, “Are you kidding me? I need that time to finish getting everything ready for my day.”
There were many thoughts swirling in my mind too and I grumbled all of the way back to my room adding yet another item to my to-do list. It took about all of one week for me to realize that greeting my students at the door was one of the best changes I made to my teaching routine.
From the first day of school until the last, I greeted my students before they entered my classroom every day. If you are familiar with Responsive Classroom or other SEL strategies, you may already know the value of greeting students each day. If not, greeting students at the door is more than just part of a curriculum; it is the foundation for building relationships and establishing the norms for how to appropriately communicate with each other in the classroom. I expected my students to be respectful to me from the time they entered my room until the time they left in the afternoon. In return, I spoke respectfully to them, even on the days when they were not at their best or made poor choices.
Making it Happen
Besides just standing at the door, I asked a local carpet store for a free carpet square sample. That was the perfect size for a welcome mat by my door. Next, I affixed a picture or drew a symbol on each of the four corners. Those four corners indicated a greeting that my students selected before entering my class–a handshake, a hug, a fist bump, or a smile. Other times I included the option of saying hello in another language, giving me a high-five, or the big question mark which indicated that the student wanted to be challenged with my geography trivia question of the morning. As I reflect on those experiences, I wish I had thought about making two or three greeting mats and rotating them throughout the year. My students loved selecting their greeting for the day so the welcome mat became a very important component to our morning routine.
I quickly learned that all of my students came to school with different needs. Some students stepped on the corner for a hug every day because they just needed a warm embrace to start the day while others wanted the challenge of answering the geography question. And, as a part of the routine, I asked my students to use appropriate social skills too; I asked them to look me in the eye and say good morning or carry on a brief conversation. No mumbling. No looking at electronics. No earbuds. No heads down. If they tried to sneak in or skip this part, we tried again. I wasn’t asking for anything other than courtesy. In return, I did the same.
Many greetings were short but sometimes our conversations would turn to other events in their life: the outcome of their last basketball game, the condition of a sick relative, the rising action in a book they were reading, or a video game challenge they conquered. I wanted to set an example of how to communicate appropriately plus let them understand that I was truly interested in them because I was! In addition, I knew I connected when they started asking me questions about MY life outside of school. We got to know each other better through these little interactions and established a stronger connection.
Within the first week, my students knew that they should not enter the room in the morning until I came to the door with my welcome mat. They would race down the hall to be the first one to pop in their head and say, “Mrs. Bailey, we are here!” Yes, this did require me to have everything ready for the day a few minutes earlier plus an established and effective morning routine within the classroom, but those 20 minutes of greeting my students was a valuable way to set the tone and build relationships every day.
Barb Bailey is the Director of Learning at LearningPlunge, Inc. She has a Master of Education degree and 15 years of teaching experience. Barb is committed to providing high quality educational resources for all children. Reach out to her at Bailey@learningplunge.org.