I hope you’re reading this and feeling relaxed, rested, and ready to start the new school year. The beginning of the school year is when we can truly start fresh with a new group of kids. When I was a classroom teacher, this was always a time I cherished. I loved making the nameplates, setting up the bulletin boards with spots for their work to hang, organizing the library and writing center, and choosing read-aloud books for the first week.
Building community, creating safe spaces, and developing a culture of trust is essential in those first few weeks.
As you get ready to head back to the classroom, here are four ways you can kick off a great year of learning:
1. Carefully choose your read-alouds.
The first week of school sets the tone for the year. We want to make sure that our kids see that reading is for them and that they will see themselves in books (mirrors), and learn about people who are different from them (windows). With your classroom population in mind, choose picture books or a whole class novel to help you do this. Read this post on inclusive read alouds for ideas.
2. Start with identity webs/maps.
Identity webs are based on the work of Sara Ahmed, a guest speaker who joined us a few times last year. We’ve written about it in several of our newsletters. Here’s an example. Having kids create webs that show their identity is crucial to knowing who they are, where they’re from, and what they value. Without them, our unconscious bias will take over and make judgments around these ideas. Here are some of the things you’ll want include in your identity web when you model it:
d. National origin
e. Sexual orientation
f. First language
After creating these webs, you can have kids share with partners to find commonalities. In what ways are they similar? In what ways are they different, and can they find an appreciation or interest in the other person?
3. Create Bio Bags.
Have kids do the bio bag activity Liz Kleinrock mentions in the new book, Start Here Start Now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work In Your School Community. Liz will be joining us on October 16th for a special session on DEI in educational leadership. Make sure you’re getting emails from us to be the first to know about it!
Students will write the things they think are VISIBLE to the outside world on the outside of the bag — things like hair color and glasses. They can put index cards or sticky notes of the INVISIBLE things on the inside of the bag — things such as first language or religion. This exercise aims to help students understand that we want to get to know what’s going on inside of people. We want to see the invisible things and hold off on making judgments or form stereotypes.
4. Have a soft start to the day.
The soft start is also based on Sara Ahmed’s work with Smokey Daniels. We tried this during our PD sessions with teachers last year, and it made a world of difference. We got to connect, feel relaxed entering a new space, and then get into the work of the day or session.
With these simple practices, we’re confident you’ll have a great start to your school year!
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