I am a die-hard Harry Potter fan. When I read (and re-read, and re-read, and re-read) the books, I am always envious of the way Harry feels connected to Hogwarts. There is something so primal and powerful about belonging somewhere. But it’s not just belonging—it’s belonging somewhere special. Somewhere unlike anywhere else, somewhere distinctive, somewhere only a few can call their own. How can you create this in your classroom?
- Create a unique “home” for your students.
Your classroom is not only a place where learning takes place. For many kids, your classroom is the most consistent home they may know. Commit to giving your classroom a unique personality. It wouldn’t hurt to give your room a nickname, either! Building a special classroom space that is unlike others builds pride in your students. Harry Potter found belonging within his Common Room, where only other Gryffindors could hang out. In a similar way, your students should feel that same sense of belonging when they come in the morning. This is my classroom, and I only get to share it with these 25 other kids.
Our classroom is called “The Jungle.” I am happy to say that my students have a great deal of pride when it comes to our room. Past students refer to their kindergarten experience this way—“Oh yeah, when we were in The Jungle, I remember we did gingerbread houses.” Just having a dedicated classroom theme and nickname binds us together like a team.
2. Create a classroom motto or song. Having a special motto or song further sets your students apart from anyone else’s. Chants and music are also very powerful learning agents. The more you repeat a message, the more it will become ingrained into your student’s heads.
During our daily calendar routine, we end by reciting this:
Let’s have a great day of learning, Kindergarteners. In our classroom…
We are brave!
We were born to be awesome—not perfect!
In this room, we don’t do easy—We make easy happen through hard work! (The kids stamp their feet).
Today, we will make mistakes! It’s ok because
We are brave!
It’s not much, but the message of “being brave” is an essential piece to our classroom culture in the Kindergarten Jungle. As the year goes, the kids learn how large the definition of brave really is, how there are many ways of showing bravery, and how each one of their friends is capable of being brave anywhere they go. If someone is crying about anything, it is quite typical for their friends to give them a hug and tell them “just be brave.”
We also have a class song that we learn during the second half of the year. We spend forever learning the motto chant, and by January, we are ready to kick it up a notch! Every class that crosses The Jungle learns “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars. By April, they can read most of the words in the song, can practice it independently, and can illustrate each stanza with assistance. Past students often tell me this was one of their favorite things they learned.
- Get with the times—take pictures of everything. There is nothing like looking through old photos and seeing living proof that you had a great experience. Kids love seeing themselves in photo! (In fact, a really great prize for some kids is getting to take a selfie with their teacher! They think it’s hilarious). I take pictures all year long, upload them to Windows Movie Maker, hit AutoEdit, and just like that, I have a classroom slideshow for the kids and parents to watch at the end of the year. No matter what happens between the four walls of your classroom, your kids will always remember what they see in those pictures. If a slideshow is too much, simply uploading the photos to your computer and previewing them on the overhead screen for them to see is enough. The idea is to recap and highlight all the positives that you shared with them throughout the year.
We can’t all have the same experience as Harry, but with a little extra thought, we can come just a bit closer to the magic.
My dog also has an Instagram, and it's better than anyone's. @mrdarcy_theiggy