Can you imagine how difficult it is to run centers or do paired work when you constantly hear “but I don’t want to work with him/her.” Or when the day to day running of your classroom is filled with, “he's/she's looking at me, copying my work, breathes too heavily, keeps sniffing…”
And not just for the teacher but also for the students.
When children don't like each other, school isn't a nice place to be. There's less student engagement which then affects outcomes and even emotional health.
As we know, it’s crucial for teachers to create a positive classroom community. Without that, classrooms can become disharmonious places and you can believe me when I say the year my kids didn't get along, my classroom certainly was!
That year we had to do some serious work on building friendships and learning about friendly behaviors.
What is a friendly behavior?
There's a difference between being friends and being friendly. Not everyone is going to be your friend but everyone needs to be friendly to each other if a positive classroom community is going to exist.
A classroom should be a place where children want to come to.
A place where they feel safe and comfortable.
Where they feel free to express themselves in a positive way.
Where they can ask and answer questions without worrying about what their peers are going to say.
If you know anytime you give the wrong answer or don't know how to do something, someone in the class is going to say something negative to you, you are definitely less likely to want to participate.
When children are friendly to each other, they tolerate mistakes and are even encouraging and supportive. Learning is allowed to take place!
Creating a positive classroom community with posters
A continuous focus on social skills is important but for quick results, I used posters.
Like any good poster, it’s important not to put them up on the wall never to refer to them again.
Yes, mine were on the wall, but, each morning for a couple of weeks in our morning meeting we would talk about what friendly behavior is and what is not.
For example: What does sharing look like, sound like, feel like? What can I share, what shouldn’t I share? And then we would role play.
I would choose a new friendship attribute to discuss each day.
If I saw a behavior that wasn’t friendly, I always asked, “Is that friendly?” Eyes would instantly go to the posters.
It’s also important to differentiate that we don’t all have to be friends but we have to be friendly.
Reward friendly behavior
The year I had the group of kids that couldn’t get along, I put in place a reward system that was based on them being friendly.
I made popcorn shapes out of card. Each time I heard kids using friendly words or showing friendly deeds I would place a piece of popcorn on a cut out of a popcorn box. When the box/jar was ‘full’ we had a class reward – generally a popcorn party!
Of course, there were the kids who would wait until I was in earshot and say, “Wow that's really neat writing Liam.” Or “You're really good at that Simone. I like the way you solved that problem.”
That didn't matter because if I heard that friendly language being modeled you can bet that others did too.
My kids also got really good at reporting what others had done for them. Because the idea was to encourage friendly behavior it really didn’t worry me how often they reported it.
Friendship was our focus after all.
It didn’t take long before everyone was onboard with showing their friendly side which ultimately meant that they could work together more effectively.
Read stories based on friendship
There are many storybooks based on friendship that you'll find in any school library.
Everyone knows The Rainbow Fish and I've seen great friends themed units of work based on The Little Red Hen.
You'll find that many children's books have something about friendship in them which makes it easy to ask during the reading of the story, “Was ___ showing good friendship skills? What could he have done instead?”
I've found many great picture books in the $2 bin at the bookstore.
Encouraging friendly behaviors will be a year-long process for some classrooms. You may not have to continue to use a reward system but referring to friendly behaviors in stories or referring back to the posters will help maintain a caring positive classroom community.
You can grab a set of posters for your classroom here.
If you decide to try the posters in your room, I’d love to know how they go.