Creating a caring and compassionate atmosphere in the classroom, in which students support and look after one another, is the cornerstone of the sixth grade program that my co-teachers and I have created over the years. Our motto is: “We’re a family, and families take care of each other.” We instill this way of living within the boys on day one and tie it into almost every discussion we have with the class throughout the year. We spend the first two months of the school year helping the students learn how to transform this motto into an actionable plan. At this point in the year, most of the students are able to live our class mantra and make it a part of their daily routine. They take care of their fellow sixth grade brothers in and out of the classroom. It’s an amazing thing to see. Our class of 11 individuals have turned into a family of students working together towards a common goal.
While we pride ourselves on creating this close-knit family of learners in the classroom, we want to be sure that the parents and families of our students feel a part of this community as well. We want them to feel like extended sixth grade family members. We want the families of our students to know what’s happening in the classroom on a daily basis. This is especially vital for our international students, as their families are thousands of miles away in most cases. We want them to feel as if they are in the classroom with their student, despite being far away. We provide our families with fodder for which they can use to create meaningful conversations and discussions with their sons. We don’t want the parents and guardians of our students to feel disconnected from life in the sixth grade. We want them to feel a part of something greater than just the school to which they send their son.
We create this strong community through a four-pronged approach, which starts and ends with open and honest communication.
- Prior to the start of the academic year, we contact all of the families over the summer via email. We provide them with an introductory letter, explaining our sixth grade program in detail. We also share numerous videos with our students and families, introducing ourselves as their teachers and guides. We explain a few of the projects and activities we will be doing throughout the year to help foster a sense of excitement within the students and their families. We want the boys psyched for the academic year to begin. This constant barrage of communication over the summer helps bridge the gap between the school and the families of our new students as they go into September knowing exactly what they and their son can expect from the sixth grade program at Cardigan.
- We send out daily updates via the Remind app to our families regarding life in the sixth grade. We tell them what we’re doing in each of our classes and update them on changes to our schedule, all with the intention of helping keep them connected to what we are doing in the sixth grade. This constant contact helps facilitate conversations between the families and their sons. It also provides us, the teachers, with yet another support system for each of our students.
- We maintain a class website via Shutterfly that we keep updated with pictures of special events and activities, in and out of the classroom, and weekly newsletters. This is a more broad way for the families to know what’s happening in the sixth grade classroom. Who doesn’t love seeing a picture of their child engaged and having fun in school? This communication really allows the parents to feel as if they are in the classroom with us.
- As my co-teacher and I are also the advisors for the entire sixth grade class, we provide the families with updates on how the students are doing in the classroom, in sports, and in the dormitory setting. We field all of the questions thrown our way swiftly and in a meaningful, yet honest manner. We want the families to have an accurate portrait of their son as they see how they nicely fit into our sixth grade family. This more intimate communication shows that we truly know and care for the students in our classroom, showing the families how important their children are to us. This final piece of the puzzle, that weaves the families of our students into our sixth grade community, may be the most important piece of all. The families feel as if they have an advocate on their side and not just teachers trying to tell them what their son is doing in the classroom.
This method of bringing the families of our students into the fold that is our sixth grade program, pays dividends. The line of communication is wide open before the school year even begins so that the families feel as if they can trust and confide in us. If concerns or issues need to be raised before or during the academic year, the parents and guardians feel comfortable sharing this information with us. It’s not an us vs. them mentality in the sixth grade, and we make sure that the families feel as though it isn’t. We want them to feel invested so that we are able to best help support and challenge their sons. Teaching is so much more than just what happens in the classroom. It’s also about connecting the dots to everything else outside of the classroom, as we know that children can’t be raised and prepared by just one person or small group of people. It takes a kind and caring community to help prepare students to live meaningful lives in a global society.