Although I have absolutely no knack for this, I love to look at how-to articles about entertaining.
I flip through a Martha Stewart Living magazine, focusing on the glossy pictures of unique table decorations, comfortable conversation areas filled with delicious appetizers and drinks, and smiling hostesses surrounded by people who are relaxing, making eye contact, and simply enjoying each others’ company.
These pictures may look contrived, but I personally have seen how some of my own friends are able to bring a diverse crowd of people into their home in a way that is similarly comfortable and effortlessly inclusive.
The other day, it struck me just how opposite this is from the typical high school classroom.
In an average classroom, students enter and immediately sit face-forward in rows. A bell work assignment typically awaits them on the screen — a five-minute independent exercise, to be completed in silence. Next, the teacher lectures to the students for twenty to thirty minutes as they bow their heads and scribble down notes. Occasional questions are posed throughout the lecture, and the same few students raise their hands while the rest of the class zones out and/ or thinks about lunch.
If this were a party, the guests probably would have exited within the first 15 minutes.
As a teacher, I want my students to enter my classroom feeling comfortable, engaged, and included. My goal is to be like a hostess at my own party: I mingle, I introduce people….I make sure the environment is set up to maximize interaction.
In a nutshell, I want everyone to be mixing and interacting — in conversations, lively discussions, and team building activities.
Why do I do this? Because treating students like guests at a party encourages the development of peer-to-peer connections and a healthy group dynamic, as well as a psychological sense of well-being, all of which can make a difference to students who would otherwise struggle in isolation.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a Martha Stewart to create a welcoming, engaging, interactive, and connected classroom. Adding a few new team-building strategies to your traditional classroom will do the trick.
Check out the Island Nation, Be the Machine, Lineup, and It Takes Two strategies and watch your classroom turn into the gathering your students won’t want to miss.