Community Building Through Orientations

Each year, before the official day of classes, our school has set the day aside for student orientations. We meet the parents and students individually to get to know them, and for them to know their teacher prior to the first day of school. Not only does this help to relieve the stress and anxiety that our students could have with moving to a new grade, but it also allows me to start building a strong relationship with my students and parents.

In the past, our orientations have been more teacher directed: basically a relaying of information about grade 4, with only a small amount of time at the end to have a “real” conversation with our families. This year, we wanted to show our families how important their voices are, how we value our relationships with them, and how we want to build a strong classroom community. In turn, my grade level collaborated together to redesign the format of our orientations. Here’s how they looked instead:

Before our families entered the classroom for their meeting, they watched a video that we created, which highlighted features of grade 4.

Watching the video prior to our orientations eliminated the initial minutes of teacher talk, and instead allowed us to have an open discussion. From here, we created a¬†2017 Student Questionnaire¬† as a way to get to know our students better. I wasn’t entirely sure about how these questions could turn out, with students generally being shy on the first meeting day. Much to my surprise every single student had a story, thought, or specific fact that really showed me something special about them, outside of academics. I even received several laughs from parents about the things that their child shared!

After opening the floor for any questions or comments from either the student or the parents, each family had their photo taken together. I intend to print and send these home as a family keepsake. My students were then given a little treat (label courtesy of Teachers Pay Teachers), and the parents were given a parent questionnaire to complete at home. I’m excited to see the responses that I receive back.

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Through taking the time to redesign our orientations by putting community building first, we’re hoping to have long lasting benefits: That our parents will feel valued, our students will know that their voices count, and that our communication and relationships will continue to grow and develop.

Life Lessons Through Elephant and Piggie

If you know my family, we have this weirdness with pig nicknames. Upon the arrival of my new niece last year, I wanted to start on her a book series, and while browsing our school book fair came across a story called Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems. 


I was immediately drawn to the title, but in all honesty, the book itself didn’t look that appealing to me. It’s written in comic style, with colour-coordinated speech bubbles for the characters, Gerald and Piggie. However, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are so lovable, empathetic, and melted my heart. My cousin, of course, agreed!

It wasn’t until recently when I came across a different story from the series, and thought about reading it to my grade 4 class. I was hestitant because of the simplicity of the book, but was surprised with a loud applause after we read it. Like me, they too are now addicted! They seek the series out at the library, share them with each other, and are constantly recommending a new story from the series. “Why?” I wondered. 

Sometimes I think as teachers we’re caught up in the need to teach our kids to read. To teach them to challenge themselves. To encourage them to read chapters book. But have we forgotten to teach our kids to enjoy reading? Don’t we want them to connect and relate to the characters? Find humour in texts? Empathize? 

This series has opened the doors for me in my classroom to teach children about friendship, character, and life lessons, but more importantly to be able to find themselves in a book! I challenge you to do the same. 

Do Students Only Learn?

The other day in class, my students were completing a word association noun and verb activity. Several nouns were provided to them, and they needed to add an interesting verb that would fit nicely with the noun. For example, one noun was lion, and several ideas for the verbs were pounce, roar, and stalk. As my students continued to complete and share their ideas, we approach the last noun, students. I was intrigued to see the verbs associated with students, and my students own understanding or reflection of themselves. I had a few yell, chat, and talk, however, the majority of my students used the word learn.

Although I was content with the idea that students “learn” I questioned why so many students chose this word and not many others verbs that could be associated with the word students. I completed a simple google image search on students to see the types of pictures that came up, and this was what I saw:

Google search of "students"

Google search of “students”

Happy students with books in almost every picture. Why were there no photos of students thinking or building things? Why are there solely smiling faces with books?

This led me to question if students and perhaps society in general has an image of students as learners, how can this idea evolve into something more? How do I encourage my students to be creators, thinkers, builders, and discoverers? How do I make them understand that they are more than a learner?

They are the thinkers that this world need. They can be creators of new and incredible ideas. They are the future designers and explorers. They are so much more than a learner.