Beyond the Ice Breaker

As we head into back to school once again, remember that the first step in building community is getting to know one another.

For Critical Skills teachers, back-to-school is about more than organizing materials and planning lessons- it’s also about figuring out the best ways to help kids get to know each other well, whether they’ve been in school together for one day or a decade. Building the Collaborative Learning Community is the first and most important job the teacher has. We know that collaboration (not just cooperation) is the goal, that getting to collaboration requires trust and that trust is predicated on knowledge. If we know each other well, we can plan together to best build on our individual gifts and to compensate for our challenges. We can solve problems- both curricular and social- by bringing our collective best selves to them. Who wouldn’t want that?

So we think about community builders that work for our particular brand of kids- the ones we don’t know except by reputation and experience (if we’re lucky). We think about past years and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Maybe we review the Community Builder Book or the the new text Cooperation Isn’t Enough. We may plan on name games, ice breakers, or more content-focused methods of getting kids to know one another.

Here’s the thing, though- building a CLC is about more than those first days. It’s bigger than a group juggle or two, more complex than partner introductions and All About Me bags. Building the CLC is about a whole series of choices we make- intentionally or less so- in preparing for those early days, from how we greet students each day and what we ask them to do in their first (and last) few minutes in the room, to the way we preview, practice, and review the systems we’ll use all year. Think about it through the lens of the fabulous BFEBest Formula Ever (thanks to Kim John Payne and his Center for Social Sustainability for this!).

Ready? Hold on to your hats because this is going to shake some things up in your classroom.

High Social Complexity + Low Form Predictability = Stress Reactive Behaviors

Let’s take that a part a bit, shall we? It’s particularly EduBabbly, I know.

Situations in which relationships are unclear, changeable or unpredictable are Socially Complex. Uncertainty around social standing, appropriate behavioral expectations and norms can create socially complex situations. Examples could include expectations around what students should where, specific rules about behavior and language as well as the ubiquitous “Where will I sit? Will anyone like me? Will the teacher be nice? Will I have friends this year?” questions.

In some situations, we are able to anticipate the sequence of events we will experience and the actions we are expected to take in order to be successful. Form Predictability is an indicator of the clarity of our understanding of what it about to happen. Examples of this include where to put coats and backpacks, where to sit, where to go for lunch, how to open a locker, and what the agenda for the day will be.

Stress/ Reactive Behaviors are reflective of the level of fear in any given situation. They are the fight, flight, flocking (clique) and freezing behaviors we often see in our classrooms.

The Collaborative Learning Community is about decreasing stress, anxiety and reactivity whenever possible. The BFE can help you identify risky “spaces” (both physical and chronologically- think hallways, lunchrooms, buses and recess) in your school day, so you can anticipate and either change or be prepared for those times when kids may need additional support and an increased adult presence. That means previewing what’s going to happen and what students should be doing while it’s happening (“We’re going to have an assembly today, which means that after morning meeting, we’ll line up at the door and we’ll walk down the cafeteria together. We’ll all sit together on the floor. I’ll be in the front of our line and Ms. S will be at the back. After it’s over, we’ll come back the same way, with Ms. S in the front and me at the back. What questions do you have about that?”)

I challenge you to think beyond the ice breaker this week. How can you make your classroom less complex and more predictable? What are your favorite community builders? Share them here or on our FaceBook page!


2 responses to “Beyond the Ice Breaker

  1. Most of the teachers in our school start each new year building community and they continue to do so throughout the year. It’s powerful and fundamental to effective learning. We also do community builders as a staff team!

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