Teaching and learning require a strong relationship founded on trust and commitment. While maintaining a one to one relationship with every pupil in a traditional school setting is often impossible, reminding your students that they individually matter is not. This incredible reflection activity by Kaitlyn Fischer, a fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary in Edison, New Jersey, exemplifies this message. We are so proud to be a part of this amazing project, and we hope that others get inspired by Miss Fischer and her students!
Our number one goal as educators is to provide a safe and comfortable learning environment for our students. Each child should walk through the door every morning excited to learn and to challenge themselves. They should be collaborating through meaningful projects, discussing ideas in book clubs, creating during genius hour, assessing peer work, and getting to know each other. This magic mix has been, and will always be, my number one teaching philosophy.
Yet, establishing this student-centered positive learning environment while meeting the requirements and curriculum takes careful attention, time, and consistent effort. As a result, important parts of our day, like morning meetings and team building activities, can get lost in the craze. We cannot let this happen. It’s vital that each student feels like a part of our classroom community; it’s vital that our students feel like they have a voice. They are, truly, the beating heart of our classroom.
Interestingly, during an in-service day back in October, I had the pleasure to listen to speaker Angela Maiers. Maiers delivered an inspiring and passionate talk revolving around two simple words: you matter. These words revolved around my head and confirmed just how important it is to let students know that they are a special member of our class.
Since Valentine’s Day was approaching, I decided that it was a perfect opportunity to “formally” show students how much they matter to both myself and their classmates via a special reflection activity. What better way to help this to come to fruition than through the tool that easily allows students to share their voice creatively – buncee! I called this project: “Things We Love About…” The goal of this project was to remind students how much they are cared for by their peers and by their teacher. I wanted each student to remember how special and important they are to our class and to our world.
To start the project, every student opened up a new buncee and created a title page with the text, “Things We Love About ____(their name)______.” Then, they designed the title page to best represent themselves. You can learn a lot about students based on the backgrounds and fonts they choose! After creating a title page, students then rotated around the room and sat at another student’s laptop, added a new slide and contributed onto that student’s buncee with things that they love about that student. It could be a memory, traits the student admires, interactions they’ve had together or anything kind that they wanted to share with that student. Then, they moved onto the next student’s buncee until they wrote about everyone in the class. When finished, students went back to their seats and viewed their buncee, which was overflowing with kind words and positive memories. You could see smiles stretched from ear to ear and faces glowing bright. Instantly, I knew that I accomplished my goal.
Last year, I tried this same activity using index cards and pencils. While the same goal was accomplished, it didn’t feel the same. It was missing a major component: student voice and creativity. However, this year, when flipping through each student’s buncee, it was evident that each slide had a special voice and personality to it. The backgrounds, images, fonts and designs represented students individually. When looking at a slide, you could tell exactly who wrote it, which made it feel more intimate and personal.
I decided to also create my own buncee and contribute to each of my student’s buncees. They loved reading my personalized comments and were so appreciative of my positive messages. It was such a reflective and powerful experience for myself as an educator when I finally sat down and read my own buncee. Certain phrases and words from my students kept reoccurring: “makes learning fun,” “best teacher I’ve ever had,” “kind,” “helpful.” This made me reflect on all of the experiences I’ve had with my students. The smallest gestures truly matter to the students in our classes.
Take time to smile at your students each morning. Take time to talk to them throughout the day. Laugh with them. Play with them. Trust me. They will never forget it. It matters. To learn more about how I incorporate student voice in the classroom please visit my classroom Twitter page: @MissFischer4