Class Rules. I’m sure we all have some variation of classroom rules written and displayed. Chances are you, being the good teacher you are, had your kids help you make the rules. I have always done this. Picked a few simple, yet fitting rules to put up and engaged in a discussion. Even for writing workshop we have had a rules chart. There is some value in this. It helps and nudges students to participate in the talk about how we are going to conduct ourselves. It also reminds us how to use tools and materials. However, don’t most of them actually already know this? I mean really. They know they aren’t supposed to throw the pencil or run in the room. For those who may not know these basics, once you tell them, they know. Self-control may get in the way, but deep down they know what is right.
This weekend I was delighted to go to a session at MRA (Michigan Reading Association) in Grand Rapids, MI. The session was titled, Teaching Kindness Through Literature and Song by Barry Lane and Colleen Mestdagh. Their message was to be a “force field for good” and “be your higher self.” In fact, the only rule Colleen puts up in her classroom now is “Be Your Higher Self.”
She and Barry have written a book, Force Field for Good, due out in May, all about this idea of being your higher self and learning things like compassion, gratitude and empathy. Barry has written songs to go with several character traits and Colleen has spread the teaching of these character traits across the school year. She and her students learn one trait a month along with the accompanying song. The idea is, not only should you build community at the beginning of the school year, but it should be spread out through the whole year.
Included in their book are lesson plans, writing prompts, parent notes as well as song lyrics and a CD of Barry singing the songs. Using the song lyrics, Colleen has her students go through and highlight new vocabulary or interesting lines from the song to get a dialogue going. She also has students write about how the songs and new character traits have helped create a better climate in the classroom.
This session inspired me to check in on my community this week. I think we are a tight group, my students and I, but checking in and talking about some expanded terms of character might do us some good. I also think that my rules chart is coming down and a new one is going up. I am hoping to facilitate a discussion about our current rules and what does it all really mean. Having the students write about what rules they think are important, as well as what is or is not working in the classroom, will also guide our conversation. As we talk, I plan on leading them to this idea of “be your higher self,” and we’ll see where it takes us. Are you being your higher self? It’s not always easy.
I hope to bring more of Barry and Colleen’s ideas when their book comes out in a few short months! Here is a preview of the cover.
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.