A Year in SEL on Team Imagination: With Mrs. Marchione & Ms. Folan

img_2846.jpgDay 1 – August 2018: Start of the Year

Focusing on the important elements of relationship building is a tool in every effective teacher’s toolkit. This year we track the relationship-building process with two of our 5th-grade teachers, Ms. Folan, and Mrs. Marchione. The first day of school is an important time to really go to each student and do the basics: learn their names and faces. Something as small as this gesture helps to ease the tension that everyone feels on the first day in a new school.

Aside from the obligatory routines of the first day of school, these teachers state that their goal for the first few days are focusing on their students and helping them get familiar with each other and their teachers. Mrs. Marchione structures her planning to allow students to ask questions throughout the day about non-academic aspects of school, while reminding them that they’re all in the same boat together as newbies at the school.

“My favorite part of teaching is the students in front of me and the relationships I form,” said Mrs. Marchione. “The best way to help them be successful is to make them feel comfortable. It is imperative to spend the time in September and throughout the whole year learning about each other. This helps make our students feel important and valued in the classroom. Once this is established the real learning can happen.”

Some of the tactics used to help ease into familiarity during the first few days of school include; discovering and discussing student passions, creating a survey asking students about topics to develop conversation starters to break the ice, and teaching the kids routines through stations, activities, and letting them work together in different pairs. This tactic is two-fold; unknowingly setting the foundation for students to become more comfortable, while also giving both teachers a place to bond with them and create conversation starters. This discovery process helps both teachers work to try to take the students’  interests include these ‘easter eggs’ around their passions in the classwork to stimulate their thinking – even in subjects like math and science. By putting the kid’s names or interests in math problems or reading passages, it grabs their interest and helps to show there are trusted and caring adults who are listening and paying attention to them. Goal problems at the start of the trimester and helping them reflect at the end, looking back on their progress and showing students their growth in a tangible way.

“Getting your students to enjoy the academics is one thing, but truly getting to know them is something they will always remember,” said Ms. Folan.

Many of the kids come from the different schools across town and for kids coming from the larger schools (Bennett-Hemenway) it can be an easier transition than the kids coming from the smaller schools like Johnson and Lilja. Particularly for students that are visibly nervous, both teachers are very focused on making certain they are able to support them in ways that aren’t always obvious. For instance, the locker assignment process can create anxiety for many students. By creating a lottery system, Ms. Folan has found a process that allows her students to choose where they want their locker to be, it helps to give them a sense of choice and ownership, but also creates a fair way to distribute the lockers amongst a class.

At the end of the first day, both teachers send home a ‘Homework Sheet’ about the big day asking various questions for students to report on how the day went, which helps them get a pulse on how their students are feeling and allow them to readjust to support student needs.

The inspiration for this series came after a nervous incoming 5th-grader wrote into the Central Office to ask about their new teachers on Team Imagination. This student was concerned about whether they were being placed on a good team, and even more concerned with being perfect. We often talk about SEL, but here are two (of many) teachers putting it into action. Both welcomed this nervous student into class with all their peers, and now we get to see how their year goes.

At times the relationship-building process can be easier with some kids, but both teachers make the effort with all of their students. We’ll check in again as the year progresses with more updates about Team Imagination. Stay tuned!