Sunday, August 18, 2013

The First Two Days of School: Building a Team

As most teachers do, I carefully planned out my first two days of school.  I packed in procedures, discussions, fun projects, read alouds, and much more.  I knew it was going to be a great two days.  In fact, it was a great two days!  However, as in my past 11 first days of school as an elementary teacher, I did not follow my carefully laid out plans.  Not even close!  Of my 13 planned activities for the first day, we completed three.  This is typical.  Everything takes a little longer than planned during the first few weeks of school.  As an experienced teacher, I've learned it's always better to be over-planned than under-planned.

Knowing that I was not going to accomplish everything with my students that I intended, I quickly prioritized about an hour into day one.  My goal for these first two days was to build a team in my classroom.  I always refer to us as a team in room 20.  Some teachers say a community of learners, classroom community, or something similar.  I prefer to refer to my kids as a team.  Teammates help each other strive to be their best.  They encourage each other, learn from each other, and progress together.  I, as their head coach, guide them through this process.  So, in prioritizing what I wanted to do during the first couple days of school, I quickly decided to include accountable talk discussion practice (many times) and a fun team-building activity that I found on Pinterest.

The team building activity required students to work together to build something with tin foil and pipe cleaners.  First, I placed my students in teams of four.  Each team came up with a norm for working in a team.  They all had a team discussion about this before we had our whole group discussion about working in a team.  Teams gave their working in a team norms, and we made a class chart.  Some of the norms included always consider everyone's ideas, respectfully disagree (see Accountable Talk chart), back-up ideas with evidence or reasons, and everyone must participate.  The chart is still hanging at the front of the classroom, and probably will remain there for a while.  I imagine it's something that we will need to refer back to and add to within these first few weeks of school.

After the working in a team chart was made, I passed out the bags with materials to students.  Then, I pointed to directions on the Smart board.  I did not speak for the next 15 minutes.  I also did not clarify anything.  Students were required to solely depend on their teams.  I love stepping back, being silent, and allowing my students to take over.  For the next 15 minutes, I watched as my students took leadership roles, worked together, solved problems, respectfully agreed and disagreed, attempted to include those who were a little more shy, and assemble six different creations from tin foil and pipe cleaners.

After the activity, we assembled as a whole group again to discuss what went well and lessons learned.  An interesting connection among each of the six groups was that every group had at least one disagreement.  All of those groups were able to come to an understanding in a respectful way.  I honestly believe that most were able to do so because we explicitly practiced how to respectfully disagree using accountable talk before this activity.  The discussions I overheard among the groups while making their tin foil creations were impressive.  I also pointed this out to students during our whole group discussion.  Rather than simply saying good job, I said, "You should all be proud of your teams.  You worked together, discussed, at times respectfully disagreed, and all reached the goal.  The tin foil creations were not the goal.  The goal was to respectfully work together in a team."  This project was a true example of how the process is often times more important than the product.  I'm excited about observing more team projects and continuing to build our team during the coming weeks.  This is going to be a great fifth grade year!

 Team tin foil creations:  The process was definitely
more valuable than the products in this case!