Building relationships with your students is a classroom priority. Classroom relationship-building exercises can increase engagement, motivate students, and solve many classroom management problems. Join me in learning how to integrate back-to-school SEL activities into your classroom.
Building on personal classroom experiences
I can still remember as if yesterday I was sitting on the after-school bus having just attended an extra help session for math. It was a long day. I was tired, and none of my friends were on the bus route near my house, so I just put my head against the window and was relaxing.
Unfortunately, another boy, a known bully, disrupted that peaceful afternoon ride in my grade.
I wasn’t the most popular girl in school, but I also wasn’t an unpopular person. Years and years later, I realized that I couldn’t always be myself because of the anxiety I suffered, so I often liked to blend in and only let true friends know how I felt.
So here sits the boy in my grade that I never really liked – not romantically – just not as a person. He wasn’t nice, he was rude, and there was no reason for the rudeness. Today, I guess it was my day to be his target. My crime? Not being fully developed on top. Ugh.
His behavior was terrible, and if it happened today, I would tell him off. But because of that fact, I doubt it would happen today. However, I do know that even though I was not bullied or made fun of often, this memory STILL pops into my head, even 15 years later into my career as a teacher.
Realizing the importance of social-emotional learning activities.
Their comments to one another were disgraceful. Calling each other “fat pig,” “stupid,” “shut up,” among whatever was said that I couldn’t hear. The prior memory popped into my head, and I knew that I needed to stop this behavior. I didn’t want one of my students to have a memory like I did pop into their head and negatively affect my classroom.
Back to School SEL Idea
So what did I do? This was an easy exercise that yielded results better than I could have ever imagined.
Gather the following materials:
- Chart paper
- Scraps of different colored pieces of paper
Before the social-emotional activity, I sketched out a heart across the chart paper. I wrote above and below the heart,
The “Do Now” that morning was to take 10 scraps of paper. The students were immediately engaged. They had no idea what we were going to do.
Class started, and I told the students how that morning I was cranky. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and gave my husband an attitude for no reason at all. I asked who else could identify with this and had students share their stories. After a few stories, I then told the students I felt bad. I said things that I shouldn’t have, and it wasn’t right to my husband. While I knew he would forgive me, I hurt his feelings, which wasn’t nice of me. I then asked the students if anyone ever said something to them that hurt their feelings. I gave students time to think and then told them to write it down.
“On the piece of paper, write down anything that was said to you that hurt your feelings, something that you said that you knew hurt other people’s feelings or something you say to yourself to hurt your own feelings.”
I really wasn’t sure who would take this seriously. While we all know certain students in our class who will, would the students who this activity was REALLY geared toward also take it seriously?
They did. They all did. My students floored me. They apologized to each other through the notes. They told me things they said to themselves, like “You don’t deserve to be here,” they told me things that were said to them by people outside of the class that hurt. Some students cried. After the strips of paper were read, we crumpled them. We did this to say it’s out there and will never happen again in this room.
While I wasn’t quite expecting the emotions that were stirred during this SEL activity, it was one I will do each year. Of course, there were follow-up conversations to be had and check-ins with students, but since I did this activity in my classroom, the words used will not hurt us.
I urge you to try this simple SEL back-to-school activity in your classroom, especially if you feel the classroom climate is negative. Not only will it help to become a positive place, but it will also strengthen the bond you have with your students which is so very important, especially in this day and age.
Looking for more ideas to develop relationships with your students? Click here to read this two-minute idea.