Compliment Chairs, Character Building, and Connections

First full week of school finished! I’m exhausted; you know, that “first week of school, dammit why do I do this to myself every year, I need to get on with my life, ugh” kind of exhausted. It was a good week. After several years of students who were forced to bring their personal issues to school everyday and had a hard time taking what they were doing seriously (most of which have, now in high school, turned that corner and are doing MUCH better), this group of students have these lovely little halos on all the time, more than half of them think smiling is a good thing and all of them actually give a damn about their educations. I sense I’m in the Twilight Zone.

Our team decided this year (in anticipation of the opposition of what I just described above) we’d do some team building activities every month. Our first event was Friday. In advisory, each team of students had to decide on a advisory name (my team is “Stone Cold”; there’s Arroyo’s Avenging Squad, Doughman’s Dead Poets, etc.) so when we have competitions, we can list everyone on the leader board we have posted in the hallway. In our first competition, (bring back the signed packet sheet) my team came in 3rd. I’m hyped!

While waiting for the “big event” scheduled for outside after lunch yesterday, I took the time to model my favorite advisory activity, “the compliment chair”. In the compliment chair activity, we lock the classroom door, turn down the lights and set a chair at the front of the room. People volunteer to sit in the chair and their peers raise their hands to be acknowledged. Compliments are offered up for favors given, help accepted, positive comments shared, etc. The recipient of the compliments must respond appropriately, thank you or you’re welcome. All comments must be positive. The first time we do this, I always sit in the chair first. I didn’t expect much from them, being the first full week of school and them not really knowing me. (the first day of school, the Reading teacher kept sticking her head in and yelling “the rumors about Mrs. Stone are true!” but the compliments flowed. When it was time for me to relinquish the chair, there was actually a fight over who would sit next. The wonderful things they said about each other made me very happy.

This has NEVER happened before in 12 years of educating teens. As I reflected on it at the end of the day, I tried to figure out why it was different this year. From a larger sociological point of view, perhaps this group of children come from slightly less stressed home environments (as opposed to those before, whose parents struggled trying to keep everything together through the economic downturn of the ’10s and were more interested in what they could “get” than what they could “give” Functioning in survival mode is a terrible thing.) Maybe, their teachers over the last 2 years took a different approach to creating connections with them. We’ve mentioned to their 7th grade teachers how amazing they’ve been so far, with the return comments of, yes, this bunch is different, they’re great!.
The character building skills we want to teach them this year, they already seem to have a feel for, so we will build on that. We want to make connections with them that will help them see the bigger picture of learning and creating their own realities. Most already have some idea what they might like to do with their lives; we’ll help with that with Career Days, field trips and guest speakers. We need to teach them technology (this is the first group of students that were “born with a device in their hand”, so, they don’t get excited when I say, you can use your phone to research that. They just do it. They will get their email and Google Drive accounts in a week or so. The Math teacher and I are so excited about that we’re beginning to hyperventilate at team meetings every time we discuss it. (more on THAT shortly!)

Starting the new year on a positive note, with students who want to be great at what they do and recognize the importance of connecting to each other and their teachers in order to do the very best they can is thrilling! I’ll keep you posted on some of the things we’ll be doing and our progress as we prepare for high school!

How do you start the new school year with YOUR students?

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