The Window: A Glimpse Into Our Classrooms
We commonly use the word “community”to describe, on a basic level, the collective members of a school: students, parents, teachers, non-teaching staff, and administrators. The word also evokes togetherness, commonality, a shared vision and purpose. Ideally, when a school refers to its community, it also refers to the special ties that bind it together.
The Green Acres School community is healthy and strong. It is vibrant and connected, and this is reflected in the thoughtful work teachers and children have undertaken together to begin the new school year with a foundation of trust, accountability to oneself and to others, respect, curiosity, and embracing of differences.
Arguably, the Green Acres School community, past and present, values diversity even more than similarity: honoring an individual’s uniqueness is often prioritized over promoting cohesion. Author Eckhart Tolle wrote: “Each person’s life—each life form, in fact—represents a world, a unique way in which the universe experiences itself.” By seeking out and celebrating the ways in which each of our community members is distinctive, everyone benefits from a wealth of perspectives, varied manifestations of knowledge, and singular talents, thoughts, and impulses.
Yet it is not easy both to invite difference and to create unity. Careful planning, skilled differentiation in the classroom, and partnering with students to generate a safe, inviting space to learn, are just some of the many tactics Green Acres teachers employ to strike this very balance. It is a joy to share with you some of the wonderful, community-building, child-honoring work that has already begun this year here at Green Acres School.
Building Community with Classroom Contracts
As part of our beginning-of-the-year activities, Alison’s fourth graders were asked to consider what behaviors and routines they thought would help their class to be most successful this year. Encouraged to lead the discussion while their teacher acted as a scribe, the children came up with ideas that included: “be kind,” create a “calm” and “welcoming” classroom, and “help each other.” They also paid attention to school resources, remarking that they wanted to “only take what you need” in an effort to reduce waste when possible. The ideas were initially collected on sticky notes, and were then presented on a poster. The children signed the poster, showing that they agreed to do their best to stick to the guidelines and aim for success. At their urging, Alison signed it too, showing her commitment to the same goals.
Building Community Within a Grade: Let's Be Friends
The first weeks of school are important ones for community building in our Kindergarten classrooms. While much thought goes into forming nuclear homecorner groups (10, 10, and nine children), it also requires careful planning to build the whole Kindergarten community (29 in total). To this end, the entire Kindergarten has been customizing a song called “Let’s Be Friends.” Through this simple song, over a number of days during Group Time, the children are encouraged to share ideas about different activities that can be done with a friend. These suggestions are then incorporated into the lyrics of the song. For example, “You could play with a friend; you could sing with a friend; you could paint with a friend . . . Let’s be friends today.” As a follow-up activity, each child is invited to generate an idea to include in a Kindergarten Let’s Be Friends book, which will feature 29 pages of individual ideas and accompanying illustrations. This completed book is shared during a Group Time with the Kindergarten community. Finally, one of the teachers is taped singing the book/song and a copy of the book and recording is stored at the listening centers on the lofts for the children to enjoy.
In physical education, 3rd graders are learning to play soccer. One of the most recent lessons involved identifying and practicing a productive way to complete a pass, for which a student modeled the correct technique involving the use of the instep of the foot. To develop this skill, students participated in a game called “London Bridges.” To play, the class partnered off and stood facing each other. One student then aimed to pass the ball through the legs of the other student, who stood ten feet away with his/her legs spread apart. After a child successfully passed the ball five times through his/her partner’s legs, they switched groups, and new combinations of partners were formed. Not only did the children learn and practice this passing skill in a fun way, they also had the opportunity to collaborate with many classmates with whom they had not yet connected. These partnerships will be important as the students build upon these relationships as future teammates working together toward their goals (pun intended).
Building Community Across a Division: Lower School Assemblies
Last week, the full Lower School Division came together for an opening assembly. These assemblies are a time during which the children connect with each other around curriculum, cultural differences, and celebrations of each other. At different points throughout the year, assemblies will also be themed around our “buddies” program, where children from different grades are paired together to build cross-divisional relationships. At last week’s assembly, students learned the song, “I Will be Your Friend,” by jazz musician Guy Davis. They will sing this song at the opening of every assembly to set the tone of friendship. A version of the song can be found here. Following this activity, students participated in an African “rain-making” activity whereby in making different sounds with their bodies (snaps, claps, stomps), they recreated the sounds of a rainstorm! Finally, our fourth grade chorus led the rest of the student body in singing the song, “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu.” This special song is written in Arabic and Hebrew and introduces the theme of peace and love as a core approach in resolving conflict.
Building Community with Families: Back-to-School Night
Recently, families were invited to campus for Back-to-School Night. The purpose of this night was to build upon the individual partnerships formed at before-school parent-teacher conferences and to connect by division and class to discuss larger, more broadly-sweeping themes. The evening began with an overview of progressive education and pedagogy, followed by teacher introductions. Afterward, parents met with specials teachers to learn more about the particulars of each discipline, and about how this programming integrates with the curriculum introduced in homecorner classrooms. Finally, each homecorner teacher presented details about his/her specific classroom and grade-level projects for the year. It was wonderful to have so many families join us for the event!
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