Getting Started in Kindergarten: Building Community Through a Shared Language

Sunday, 7 August 2016

When I think of community building, my first thoughts are beginning-of-the year ice breakers or team building games that are used to help children get to know one another.  

Yet, I realize it's just as important to spend time building a shared language that communicates to my children that our classroom is a safe and caring place.   

I can intentionally set this in motion or leave it to develop on its own, which is ultimately less effective. 

If you've ever been to an Apple Store, you may have experienced the Genius Bar "vibe" that comes from explicit training in empathy and a manual that clearly defines the specific language employees are to use when helping customers. 

It builds trust, puts customers at ease, and not as evident in the Geek Squad at Best Buy.

kindergarten children building classroom community

Intentional Teacher Talk

As a classroom teacher, I don't have a "manual" that spells out how to speak to children in a way that builds an environment of mutual respect.

I need to be consciously aware of my "teacher language," and for me, this begins with guiding words in the form of a class motto, a set of promises, and affirmations

beginning of the year classroom rules

My plan is to introduce and model this language with the goal that children will internalize it, transfer it to self-talk, and begin to use it "out loud" in their interactions with one another.    

Here are some things to think about when developing your own shared language:

Choose Your Words Carefully

Whether you decide to call them rules, agreements or promises, choose language that is kindergarten friendly. 

Break down terms such as "respect" into smaller, "bite-sized" chunks for kinders.  

Here's how I whittled down respect into four promises: 
We take good care of ourselves. 
We take good care of each other. 
We take good care of our learning space. 
We take good care of our Earth.  

Then, I further broke down the promises into affirmations to get even more specific. 

You can get these FREE Promise Posters

kindergarten classroom rules and management posters

Use Transferable Language

It's important that your "big ideas" transfer into your everyday interactions with children.  

Identify prompts or catch-phrases that you can use consistently and make sure they are ones you would want to hear the children saying to each other!  

When someone makes a mistake, we say, "It's cool," which helps children feel safe to take risks and develop a growth mindset.

Make Your Classroom Rules Concrete

Create a concrete version that tells the "story" of your motto and promises to help children visualize it.  Use it to introduce each new rule/agreement/promise, during those first weeks of school.  

When finished, use it with pairs or individuals as a support tool and set it out for children to explore during their play.  

concrete way to introduce classroom rules
The wood pieces represent our community circle and will be personalized with children's pictures.

Language Do's and Don'ts

When negative or inappropriate language surfaces, use the phrase, "We don't talk that way in here."

You'll soon be hearing children use it to respond to others who are speaking unkindly. 

Last Words

As children enter your classroom for the first time, they'll bring with them the language of their home and family.  

Building a shared classroom language is important in order to create clear expectations for behavior and to build strong relationships.

Wishing you a great start to your school year! 

Thanks for stopping by!

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