Bonding with your Class: Don’t Stop Believin’!
Every time I hear the song “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey, I think about the 5th/6th grade class I taught two years ago in Redding, California. Every year, I make it my goal to find a fun and lighthearted way to bond with my class. I try to find an inside joke, a story, something from pop culture, a book, or anything else that will help unite my students and me. Two years ago, it would be a song that would identify our class. It started out as our theme song, but soon it became our mantra.
It all started when a student named Julian randomly quietly started singing during class: “Just a small town boy…born and raised in South Detroit…” I probably was taught in my education theory classes that I should make him stop. I suppose I could have given him a warning for disturbing those around him. However, because I like to have fun with my class, I chose to do something different, and a bit unorthodox. I started singing right along with him.
It didn’t take long for the others who knew the song to chime in. Other simply hummed the tune. The joy in the room was almost tangible. I attempted to do my best Steve Perry imitation while we had our own little two-minute rock concert. When we finished singing the song, I told them, “Okay, not bad for our first attempt. Now let’s focus on math.”
From that point on, those three words–Don’t Stop Believin’–became our theme. It was our bond. Throughout the year, we would randomly burst into song. We became such a cohesive team, my kids and I. Even though it was a combination 5th/6th grade class, the kids saw each other as friends and equals. Our class had a tremendous sense of community, of belonging. We had each others’ backs.
Behavior was never an issue–there was no reason to act up. We decided to see “The Lightning Thief” on a Saturday evening, and the parent chaperones were happy to attend. When it rained on the Friday before Easter break, it didn’t bother my kids. We simply held our Easter Egg hunt in the rain. 26 soggy kids, over 200 plastic eggs, and two supportive (and unfazed) parent volunteers ensured that we had a grand time, although I think there are still some eggs we never found in the brambles.
In fact, that year, we very nearly won a trip to Florida when we entered NBC’s Today Show contest “Most Extraordinary Class.” My kids never stopped believing it was possible to win, and we never stopped believing that we’d have a tremendous year. And we did.
That was two years ago. And every time I hear that song, I think about what a fantastic year we had.
As teachers, it’s sometimes far too easy for us to focus on teach, teach, teach. It’s easy to forget that what our students are going to remember years from now is NOT the lessons we taught. Yes, they will retain the information, but what they will remember are the moments. For example, I couldn’t tell you what math lesson we were working on when Julian started singing, but the effect it had on our class will never be forgotten–by them, or by me.
If I could give a new teacher one piece of advice, it would be this:
Find something that makes you and your class “click”. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. It doesn’t have to be anything thematic. It could even be as simple as a number. Your room number, perhaps? The way you find it is to stop focusing solely on the lesson plans, and really look at and listen to your kids. They’ll be the ones to come up with it; you just have to take the time to have fun with them and let it develop.
It usually takes me about two months to figure out what it is. Once I get to know my students and they get to know me, we naturally start to develop a chemistry, just like we teachers do with each other. After that, the bond works its own magic.
Here are some examples of things that have bonded my classes and myself: Mr. Potato Head, The Red Sox, and Harry Potter. For my wife last year, it was giant prehistoric beavers. For whatever reason, these were topics that struck a chord with those classes.
I am sure many teachers already do this instinctively. If you do–keep doing it! But if you haven’t yet, don’t worry. Don’t stress out about it, and don’t force it. It will happen. Just keep this idea in the back of your mind. When moment hits, you’ll know. Trust me. Three years ago I never would have imagined myself up in the middle of my classroom with all of us singing Journey. If you heard me sing, you’d know why. My wife or daughter always turn up the radio to drown me out when I
start try to sing along. But believe me, it was worth every fractured quarter note!
Don’t Stop Believin’, and always TEACHLIKECRAZY!