Classroom Culture: Get to Know Your Students

It is the first day of school and you have a classroom full of students you probably don’t know. What stories do they have? What burdens do they carry, and what is important to them?  As teachers, we want to get to know our students intentionally so we can start to build relationships. We need to know their academic strengths and weaknesses so we can meet them where they are. 

Candy Litter Puppies out for a Morning Walk Photo: Iditarod Media

Our “Cranberry Bog” theme for the month connects to how Braverman brings her puppies out to explore so she can really get to know them.  They run around, build confidence, and play while Braverman observes their personalities and traits. It’s important and satisfying to discover new things about your students, and they also can learn about you. We know in our daily lives that when we have personal interactions with people, we build feelings of solidarity, connection, and shared experience. After forging relationships, students are more willing to learn from you.

I shared an activity at the Iditarod EDU Summer Seminar that will help you get to know your students and bring Iditarod culture into your classroom right from the start. You might have students make name cards to help you learn their names, and this activity brings the Iditarod into your classroom culture. 

First, show images of musher bibs, so students can notice what information is on them. 

:ete Kaiser in Iditarod 2015.

Pete Kaiser wears bib number 54 in the 2015 Iditarod. Photo by Terrie Hanke

Let the students draw bib numbers out of a hat and draw their number on one side of a folded piece of cardstock. Students can design their own “sponsor” logos to represent who helps them through life and has their back. They can draw flags showing important connections.

The front of my musher bib name card. Photo: K. Newmyer

On the back of the folded card, students write their name and then draw pictures of things that they value. You can see on mine that I created flags that represent my family and my school, as well as a sponsor logo about my dog, Gus. On the back, I included music and yarn symbols to show my hobbies. What would yours look like? As you do this, don’t forget to model for your students, and answer their Iditarod questions. 

The back of my Iditarod musher bib name card. Photo K. Newmyer

While students are working, you can observe their habits and their personalities, just like Braverman does with her young dogs out on their rambles. Ask questions, show your interest, and display acceptance. You can secretly take notes so you know which students will need extra help or encouragement as the year progresses. Through this activity, you can gain a lot of information while creating a safe space for students to feel they are a valued part of your classroom community.

Please contact me if you would like a fully created lesson plan for this activity. I would love to hear from you about how this helped you get to know your students.