Chapter 2- Belonging
As you may recall, I am writing about Timothy Walker’s book, “Teach Like Finland.” This is a book that gives its readers 33 strategies for Joyful Classrooms.
This chapter is about how to create a sense of belonging, not only for students but also for teachers. It is ironic that I am writing about this on day one of school, when I just sent teachers a message saying “relationships are number one this week!” I am a firm believer that relationships need to be formed, in order for kids to learn, as well as adults. John Hattie, who is one of my favorite researchers, identifies teacher credibility, as his number one influence on student achievement. He describes teacher efficacy as, a belief that “a school staff that believes it can collectively accomplish great things is vital for the health of a school and if they believe they can make a positive difference, then they very likely will” (2018). The effect size of this influence is 1.57, with a .4 being one year’s worth of growth.
Here are Walkers strategies for belonging:
Recruit a welfare team:
Mr. Walker (2017) starts out this chapter focusing on himself as a teacher and how important it was for him to be with adults. He explains the difference between how he feels American schools and Finnish schools differ from each other. He states that Americans spend a lot of time with students and only a little time with other adults, while in Finnish schools, he believes that teachers spend a lot of time with each other as adults, in and out of school.
Finnish schools have school welfare teams, which seem to be very similar to our grade level teams/STAR teams, in Menahga. These are teams that we can problem solve in or talk about different interventions that may be necessary for a student to be successful. It takes a village to teach kids, and by having the “welfare team,” teachers, social workers, administration, etc, work together to help determine what’s best for a child will only better your system, and the child.
Know each child:
I am grateful for the dialogue on looping in this strategy, as this is one area I would like to look into the research more. Mr. Walker received his 5th graders after they had the same teacher for 4 years. He immediately recognized the unique bond and rapport the students had with their previous teacher. Only after he was able to loop with a group of students, did he feel that being able to reestablish healthy expectations and routines, right away, as well as the knowledge he had about each individual student, greatly benefitted him as the year began.
With ENVoY’s Cat in the Doghouse training, as well as Healthy Classroom, by Michael Grinder, we are taught to meet every kid at the door and check the size of the chip on their shoulder. This is another area that Mr. Walker identifies as important, is meeting and greeting kids as they enter. You can gauge a lot about how the day may go, just by this small interaction. Eating lunch with students in the lunchroom and doing home visits, are two other suggestions that Walker describes in his book.
Play with your students:
This strategy seems very simple, and I know my American teachers all do this- play with their students. Many of them do “getting to know you” activities at the beginning of the yare. Many play math games with their students, and celebrate what they learn and know. One other idea you writes about is going outside to play, once in a while.
In our school in Menahga, I have encouraged extra breaks throughout the day. This would be a great way to connect and play with the students.
Celebrate their learning:
One way to benefit the sense of belonging is “the teacher and the students pursued a challenging goal together, and then they celebrated their finished work together” (p. 72). Walker identifies the importance of intrinsic motivation, vs. extrinsic motivation and ensuring that each lesson has a reason to celebrate. “The first step requires that we stop seeing a celebration of learning as an unneeded add-on and start seeing it as something that brings meaning to the students’ work, motivates them to learn more effectively, and promotes a learning community” (p. 73). Throughout this chapter, he expresses the importance of bringing meaning, no matter how much time it might take. A class blog or website was another suggestion, which I think we do well in Menahga, whether it is SeeSaw, Facebook, or another app- many teachers understand the importance of celebrating success.
Pursue a class dream:
The strategy highlights the collective decision making of a class dream and following through with it. He refers to a class trip that he decided on his own and had the students plan for, vs. a trip that was decided on together as a class and planned for. He had much greater success with the trip that was decided by all. He also highlights the importance of reflection. “Class dreams can be as big as a teachers and students make them, but the most important thing to remember is that they should be shared and realistic” (p. 82).
Banish the bully and Buddy up:
The last two strategies in this chapter go hand in hand. With banish the bully, Walker discusses ways to help students take ownership of situations they may find themselves in and how to teach students to problem solve through situations. This is an area in which I hope to cover more of during my weekly grade level meetings with students. I would like students to figure out how they can work together to ensure every student feels safe and happy.
Buddying up refers to ways for teachers to work together, crossgrade. In Menahga, many of our 4th-grade classrooms, have a Kindergarten or first-grade buddy classroom. During these sessions, they can read books together, problem solve situations, and do projects together. Our older kids are working on being good role models for our younger students, hoping it will give them some intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy.
Many of the strategies in this chapter are low prep, but of the Finnish system of autonomy, students should work harder than the teacher. In Menahga, I believe we do many of these things, but I also believe my teachers are doing an incredible amount of work, that we can release back to the students for problem-solving and decision making. I don’t want them to be burned out in the first couple of years. A sense of belonging for their students and themselves is a goal that I hold with high regard. How ironic, since the next chapter is on autonomy. Stay tuned!
Hattie, J. (2018). Collective teacher efficacy according to john hattie. Retrieved from https://visible-learning.org/2018/03/collective-teacher-efficacy-hattie/
Walker, T. D. (2017). Teach like Finland: 33 simple strategies for joyful classrooms. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.