by Samantha Gentrup
As teachers get ready for the school year, we have to decide what our classrooms will look like and what our rules and procedures will be. We essentially have to create our classroom culture.
What can we do to make sure we build a classroom of kindness and compassion for all beings?
How about these ideas:
1. Do “caught being kind” awards. These could be those little red carnival tickets that kids can collect and trade for humane-focused goodies/rewards.
2. Create a compassion bulletin board. Have a written definition of compassion on the bulletin board, and then get it started with examples of compassion towards self, other people, nonhuman animals, and the environment. Encourage kids to add examples as the year progresses. These are excellent topics for persuasive writing pieces (now called Argument Writing with Common Core State Standards) and can even be used for story starters and launching points for personal narratives.
3. Have the classroom rule say “treat all beings in our classroom and learning community with respect and compassion” instead of just “all people.” I’ve found this works especially for outdoor learning experiences so that kids can be encouraged to treat nature and wild creatures with respect and compassion.
4. When doing getting-to-know-you activities, include questions about animals and kindness, and be sure to share your own stories of animal rescue, standing up for the voiceless, cleaning up nature, etc.
5. Make a commitment to bring in outside sources for real-world learning experiences. I do something called Make It Real Mondays, and every Monday we talk about a real-world topic; this involves videos, guest speakers, journaling, speeches, music, and more. My kids love it, and by January they have a comprehensive list of topics to choose from for their argument writing piece.
Since my students and I tackle some difficult concepts during our Make It Real Mondays lessons and their persuasive speeches and writing pieces, it helps to start the year with a read-aloud that includes themes of daring to be different and resisting the pressure to conform.
The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss is an excellent choice. I use it for a read-aloud, and then we discuss the theme(s).
I connect this book and the themes to our mission this year as writers and learners. I then give each student a star cut-out on which they write and illustrate what makes them unique and what issues they currently desire to stand up for.
We display these stars in the room as a constant reminder to resist the urge to conform and to always seek to be true to ourselves.
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Guest blogger Samantha Gentrup is a middle school teacher and humane educator in Florida. Sam frequently infuses humane education into her classroom and has created a humane education summer camp for her students.