Hi teachers! I’m Retta from Rainbow City Learning, and I’d love to share some ideas with you about building loyalty in your students as you think about how you’d like your teaching year to go. Thanks so much to Rachel for inviting me back!
Loyalty is a feeling of strong support for something or someone. What could be better? Students who support you and what you are trying to deliver to them and who also who support each other. Students in a supportive learning environment are more likely to grow into risk takers with new learning and also to become lifelong learners. Isn’t that exactly what we want? To share our love of learning with our students, guide them through the pure joy that learning can bring, and send them off as lovers of learning for life? Of course it is!
Loyalty can be developed in many ways. Here’s a suggested plan to set the stage for loyalty in your classroom!
I read a life-changing book back in the 90s by Ken Burns called Raving Fans. It is written as a simple parable for people who are trying to develop customer loyalty in their businesses. The lessons from this book can easily be applied to education. We answer to so many as teachers: legislators, administrators, standards, test scores, colleagues, parents, kids. It’s hard to decide who really to focus on. I’ve always found that a focus on the kids and what they really need will serve the others well, also. We just need to develop some work-arounds and finesse it a little!
The three lessons in Raving Fans are to decide, discover, and deliver. Interpreting these for our classrooms, each of us needs to decide on our own personal vision or mission, discover what our clients (students) and future fans want and need, and deliver a teaching day every day that serves both our own mission and the needs of our students.
Your vision might be to deliver all the required standards and get a great rating when you are observed. Your students’ vision of the perfect school day just might include getting together and chatting with friends all.day.long. Hmmm… What might you deliver then? A suggestion might be to deliver the standards in short mini-lessons, followed by notebooking and an opportunity for students to get together and discuss what they’ve learned. If chatting is important to them, why constantly struggle to keep it down? Just redirect it to a valuable learning experience. Discover what your kids are all about, and every lesson can easily be changed up to meet their needs.
Maybe guided reading and math workshop are frameworks that you enjoy or are required to try. What if it isn’t a good fit for every kid? Try delivering the workshop/guided group model to those who need and desire it while providing some independent and partner activities for those who relate better to those structures. You will find that kids can move in and out of these structures more freely once they feel safe and supported within the classroom community you are building together.
Decide what you must do and want to do and create your own vision for your classroom. We spend a lot of time before school starts each year designing the setup of the room and decorating it to the ultimate in cuteness or sophistication. This becomes an easier and more enjoyable task if we think beyond furniture arrangements and color palettes to our own mission and philosophy. What do you really hope to get out of the year? A happy and loyal group of students or an Instagram or Periscope worthy setup? Really?
Why not decorate lightly, but leave plenty of room for the personalities of this year’s class to shine through? Try some interactive bulletin boards where kids can add their thoughts and responses reflective of themselves. A “Tweet” board or a “Wonder Wall” where they can show what’s on their minds can go a long way toward converting wary students to fans. This works even better if you can make that wall or board a destination where students can meet up at designated times to discuss what has been posted.
Discover what each of your students is really all about. Why do they even come to school? Some come because they get dropped off and feel there is no other choice. Some come seeking friendship and companionship of other kids, and some come seeking attention and love that they may not be getting at home. Some actually come because they know that the learning begins in your classroom and they are truly interested in learning!
Plan activities from the first day aimed at getting to really know your students. Provide opportunities for them to get to know each other. Integrating art and music into your plans whenever possible is a great way to put students at ease and start the process of opening up to each other and to you. Try this series of lessons by Bullyproof Rainbow to effortlessly build caring and loyalty into your curriculum every day.
Ken Burns tells us that in business, the final step is not just to deliver, not just to satisfy the need, but to Deliver Plus – to go beyond! I found this to be mirrored in our classrooms, as well. Be the teacher who shows caring and also the one who shows up! If there is a concert, a roller skating party, an athletic event, or a science fair, even if it isn’t your area to teach, just show up. Even a 15-minute personal appearance will go a long way toward building your fan base. I promise that you will feel like a celebrity, waving and acknowledging new fans, and posing for pictures with established fans.
Be there when a student is struggling, not just on school time. Try having “office hours” before or after school for a half hour where students can come to you with a question they may have. Set up a Wikipage or a private Facebook page where students can message you when they feel the need. I’ve always given parents my phone number at the start of the year. I have found very few who have not treated that privilege respectfully. I would be able to receive an occasional call or text and take care of a tiny problem well before it was allowed to become a huge one. If parents are your fans, their children will most likely become fans as well! I even know one spectacular teacher who takes office hours to the extreme – by showing up at the library during prearranged hours some weekends to offer help. Kids join her to study, even if they have no questions, just to spend time with her. Raving fans!
Find a way to make you and your classroom (or grade level) stand out. Try a “mini-society”approach where your students are citizens with a voice in what happens. Show them that things can happen WITH THEM rather than TO THEM. Give them classroom jobs that are authentic and that actually contribute to the smooth running of the classroom. Allow them to elect a class government. Take a vote on decisions that you feel can be shared ones. Step back and give students an opportunity to run your morning meetings or even to lead a mini-lesson or two. You might even learn something yourself!
How do I know this works? My students named and organized Rainbow City so many years ago. I kept that name and “built the brand” of my classroom image over the years, adding to it with the vision of each new class of students. We had a flag, t-shirts, a mission statement, a pledge, and even Rainbow City traditions. Although I am now retired, my brand lives on in many other ways than the name of my blog and TpT store. I receive letters and Facebook messages all the time from former students, now lifelong friends, who tell me over and over how their time in Rainbow City has influenced this or that decision or event in their adult life. There are even former students who are now teachers themselves who tell me that they incorporate a few of the Rainbow City traditions in their own classrooms! I think it’s pretty clear that we built our brand together!
When your class becomes a community of learners who know each other as real people, who care about each other, and who are loyal to each other and to you, you have a community. Communities are powerful entities. While this group is with you, you have the power to channel their efforts in a positive direction. Suggest that your class leaders bring up the idea of community service in one of their class meetings. Try keeping track of random acts of kindness in some way so students can share kindnesses extended and received. Have a stack of compliment cards ready at your writing center for students to jot a quick note to classmates they’d like to compliment when they notice caring, loyalty, kindness, etc.
A community built on a strong foundation will still exist for many years beyond your classroom. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling I get now when I see how many friendships that began in my third or fourth grade classroom are still going strong for people in their thirties!
Bunting graphics used in this post by Photo Clipz on TpT!