Saturday, November 22, 2014

Building a Positive Peer Culture

In my previous post on ways to prevent students from dropping out, I focused on teacher connectedness. Now, I'd like to highlight another research-based method to keep kids engaged in school - a positive peer culture.

Sometimes, kids are mean, even cruel and it's hard as a teacher, because there is so much they don't know about the power of their words and actions. We have to teach the kids we have (not the kids we wish we had) in ways appropriate to their own emotional maturity how to be kind to others. Yes, this is a parental responsibility, but we have a responsibility, too.

Some of my students are tough. They've been through a lot. Others are vulnerable because they've been through a lot too. So, believe me when I say that I get how hard this is, but we have to try.

Ways to Build a Positive Peer Culture

  • Be the biggest weirdo in the room. If I'm goofy and silly and make mistakes, then kids feel comfortable being weird, because they know that they'll never be the weirdest.
  • Lighten up. Let kids joke around, but make it clear that there is a line. If you come down hard on kids for every little thing, your life lessons lose some of their meaning. 
  • Don't force it. My husband does yoga with his kids for brain breaks. I know another teacher who has a corny joke of the day. Do what fits your personality. Be yourself
  • Have the occasional off-topic conversation. Kids start to feel comfortable around each other because they talk to each other, not because they sat and listened to the teacher all day. 
  • Have kids write affirmations for each other, but model how it's done. My kids' attendance tends to be spotty at the end of the year, so I like to pull one name a day and say what I'd like to say to them on the last day of school. (Tip: collect the notes students write for each other and screen them before giving them to the recipient just in case)
  • Have fun. Make it an experience to be in your class. Sometimes, any class can be a little boring, but it doesn't have to be that way all the time. Take every opportunity to make something fun. You'll get better results. 
This year, I started the year by asking the kids what kind of teacher they want, an idea from Teaching and Learning Together. I made a poster and hung it by my desk to remind me.

A special thank you to my husband for his contributions to this post. 

What would you add? What do you do in your class that builds a positive peer culture? Please share in the comments below!

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