These are some very unique times in the World and the world of education! One major area of education that is often overlooked, especially in the classes to become a teacher, is the area of culture building. We are in a place in education where culture is needed more than ever. Culture provides stability, focus, feelings of acceptance and safety, and a place for students to call their own. We are now away from our students physically, but that does not mean we are away from them in the culture that we have built.
I entered into a new school this year. I didn’t know what to expect. 28 fifth graders seemed overwhelming. 20 girls…8 boys…that seemed overwhelming. Yet, I came in and learned about the students. I learned about their interests, their way of learning, who they are as not just a student, but as a person! We have to remember that students are more than a body in a seat, but a person that has emotional, social, and spiritual needs.
This year I felt the culture that 5th grade was building was going very well. I knew something about each student. I attended sporting events. I was playing at recess. I had stories with each student. It was a very positive culture, in my opinion. Then March 12th came along. The culture took a drastic turn. It took a hit…yet, it was also a time to strengthen the culture.
I’m going to try my hardest to strengthen the culture of my new “classroom” by still acknowledging my students interests. I have to be responsive to their needs. Culture is recognizing the emotional and social needs of my students. They need each other now just as we need them. When I start my now weekly Google Meet sessions, I open them up 30 minutes early just so students can come in early and talk to each other. I am not going to limit their ability to socialize. It is a need that we all have and it is something that school provides students so I need to continue to provide that aspect of culture. The reason for me opening the sessions up 30 minutes early was something I felt needed to be changed to strengthen the culture. Here’s why.
After the first Google Meet I was kind of nervous. The first was a bit chaotic, but that was understandable. Students were seeing each other for the first time in 10 days! They were excited. I didn’t stop them too much because needs were being met. Culture was being strengthened. They were bringing back their memories. It was important. This week, they cared for each other even more by listening and preparing themselves like they would have in class. The culture of respect was still there. They know what is expected and they did it. The 30 minutes of socialization brought the students back to normalcy. It was an extra 30 minutes for me to listen to them and understand them more. It was building culture.
Going back to seeing a roster with 28 students…28 5th graders…I thought it was just going to be a social fest, but by building up a culture of respect and care for one another, the socializing became limited to the expected times. Were there moments when it wasn’t? Absolutely. Was it frustrating? At times, but it was also expected being that they are still kids. It was an expected part of the culture. It was a comfortable, respectful environment. The culture was still present. The culture that was developed was in each student.
So what else am I doing to establish and build culture in my “classroom”? I’m going to write to my families and let them know how thankful I am for allowing me to be the teacher to their child. I’m going to record lessons and messages for my classes. I’m going to keep being present in their lives. I am not social distancing but rather physical distancing. Being further away doesn’t mean we have to extend our socialization. We need to be physically further. Nothing should keep us away from meeting the basic needs of social and emotional support, especially for our students. I’m going to keep being there for them. I’m not leaving my students behind.
I also provide positive support and messages to the parents. During this time, parents are the greatest allies for educators. I’ve always tried to build this connection with parents, but right now I need them more than ever. I open myself up to parents as a resource and support during this time. Parents are an extension of the culture that my class has built and I have found that they are committed to keeping the same culture at home. I have seen great respect and care within the comments in the Google Classrooms. Students assist each other with answers to comments. The same community that we built since August is still here in our remote learning.
When we left school on March 12, I felt great about the students and how they would do. I was sad though because we had a great momentum going and the culture was dominating the class. I’m so proud of these students as they still carry the culture forward in our new situation. I’m so proud of the commitment they have to each other. These students have a memory to share forever. These students are so strong and prepared to handle this. They still have me to turn to for help…but more importantly, they have each other! That’s the culture that makes me so proud! They are still building the culture while distancing from each other! That’s the culture THEY created!