When I gave a direction to a nine-year-old recently, she said, “I’m not breaking the rules. I’m just making new ones.” I had two instant reactions: I appreciated the polite yet confident response. And I just wanted my direction followed. Luckily, this moment was really about a confident kid asserting her desire and it was something minor where I had the option to be flexible.
Classrooms are full of a wide range of personalities. Some of our students are cooperative and quick to follow our directions (bless these kind souls, they help set a tone and support our efforts). However, other students want to be a part of the decision making, want to lead, and want their voices to be heard.
- Since we are always working to identify students’ strengths to build a positive classroom community, we can choose to view the “rule makers” as strong, confident humans willing to make decisions. Giving these students opportunities to shine validates their worth.
- If we are willing to view the strengths of our “rule makers,” we can look for opportunities to allow them to make decisions. One of my students is a great technology problem solver. I have taught him how to pop up, help a peer out, and then get right back to work. This taps into his strengths and allows him to use them in a positive manner. Likewise, a colleague of mine allows one of her students to share a joke or a funny story once a week during morning meeting. The child gets to have her moment in the sun, but it is only a moment, and the teacher chooses the time and place. When we honor individual personalities, we build healthy, positive relationships.
- Some things simply are not negotiable. During dismissal, we are not going to allow a student to run into the street. (There is no flexibility when it comes to the possibility of getting hit by a bus!) When another child uses a disrespectful tone with a peer, we are going to model different tones to make students aware that how something is said is just as important as what is said.
We can celebrate individual personalities, creating a time and space for students to contribute to a classroom. Highlighting unique strengths sends the message that every human in the room is a valuable member of the class community. The work that we put into building a positive community is the solid foundation for all the academic growth we work toward. How can the “rule makers” in your room contribute to your classroom community?