Updated: Mar 21
A new school year begins. So, how can we create a classroom environment that nurtures wellbeing and gives children a sense of belonging? Let's think about relationships.
I get a little excited when the first week of September arrives. Having spent so many years working in schools, for me, this is the start of the year. A time of positivity filled with new hopes and plans.
Classrooms across Britain are becoming hives of activity once again as children return to school. I wonder what these children would say their hopes are for the coming year. When I ask children about their school experiences, they usually tell me about relationships. They care about the friendships they have with their peers and the relationships they have with their teachers. To children, at least, school is a social place. A place that represents belonging and connectedness.
How, then, do we build a school community that nurtures relationships and creates a sense of belonging for children? Brené Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, writes about the need for schools to be a place where children can take off the armour they use to protect themselves. A place where children can feel they belong. We want children to be successful learners; but we also want them to feel safe enough to be brave, creative and open-hearted.
As teachers, we are in the privileged position of being able to get to really know the children that we teach. We can challenge a child’s beliefs about themselves and hold a mirror to their true strengths and qualities. We can help them to find the courage to try new things, take risks, be imaginative and, above all, be themselves. By building and fostering positive relationships, we can create the perfect place to help children grow. What do you do currently to let each child in your class know that you see them and value the contribution that they bring? Does every child feel visible and have a sense of belonging?
Greet every child before they enter the classroom. Using their name will ensure that they know that the greeting was for them.
Be fair. Children feel strongly about what they perceive as fair or unfair actions of others. Knowing that an adult will always be fair helps them to feel safe and protected. Having a set of shared non-negotiable class rules will help children to know what the expectations are and that there are boundaries in place.
Use lots of positive language and praise. Ensure that praise is specific so that the child understands what they have done well.
If there is a need to reprimand a child, do so privately without an audience. Just keeping a child back for two minutes at break time to chat about an issue in class is often much more powerful and effective.
Smile at a child when they re-enter the classroom. This little action will make them feel welcome and valued.
At the end of each day, choose a child to be ‘Star of the Day’ as recognition for something a child has done well. This might be a child’s effort, improvements or a quality they have demonstrated. Keep a log so that you can track which children might be at risk of going unnoticed.
Give every child a special responsibility in the classroom to enhance their feeling of belonging. Not only will the children will feel trusted and important, it is also helping them to develop life skills.
Find opportunities for children to have a voice and to share their thoughts or ideas. This can be achieved through group or partner discussions, recording on post-its or by feeding back to the class. Being interested in what children have to say will raise their confidence and self-worth.
Celebrate diversity. Encourage children to see that they are all special and have different strengths and abilities. Praise children for their efforts and positive traits so that they learn how valuable these are.
Create ways to make the day feel more special. This might be a curriculum linked game before lunch, some extra story time or mindful colouring time, taking the lesson outdoors, choosing a few children to share something about themselves e.g. their favourite book and why, what they had for dinner last night or how many pets they have.