Developing a safe and welcoming classroom is a very important
responsibility of teachers and students. Even before the children
enter the classroom at the beginning of the school year, teachers are
working hard to create a classroom atmosphere that is safe (physically,
emotionally, academically, socially and spiritually), conducive to
learning and welcoming. This includes everything from the
decorations on the classroom walls, seating arrangements and the
activities and assignments that the children engage in.
We began our school year by getting to know each other in a different way. Initially, the children all introduced themselves (simply their name). They were then given a puzzle piece each and invited to write and/or draw something that told/showed about themselves (we brainstormed things they might draw or write). Each of the children took their puzzle piece and personalized it. They were then invited back to share/describe their puzzle piece to the class (e.g. "I drew people playing soccer because my favourite sport is soccer."). The children then left their puzzle piece in the center of the gathering area. After each child had shared his/her puzzle piece we collaboratively put the puzzle together to create a class puzzle.
After the puzzle was assembled we talked about how each piece was different (illustrated differently) but that it still fit into the whole puzzle. This led us to talking about how we are all individuals but we all work together to make our classroom a good place for learning.
This class puzzle is still up in our classroom to remind us all that we are important in making our classroom a safe place for learning and playing. We even had parents sign their name on our puzzle to demonstrate how important they are in our learning!
We also gather, on a daily basis, in a circle on the carpet area. This is a time for us to share prayer songs, prayers and stories. It is also a time to discuss ways in which we can be a good friend to others. We always gather around a candle that the children have come to know as our prayer candle or Christ candle. The candle symbolizes "God's Light" and the children are reminded about how they can share God's light with others.
In connection with this spiritual component of our learning, as well as a story that we shared at the beginning of the school year ("I Wish I Were A Butterfly"), each of the children created (decorated) a personal candle to symbolize that each of us is part of God's circle and that each of us has an important responsibility to share God's light in the way that we interact and speak with other people.
These candles have a special place in our classroom and are lit at special times throughout the school year to remind us of the individuality of all the students as well as the importance of each student. The children can really relate to being part of our "circle of friends" because of this visual connection for them.