Building Relationships in Middle School


Building relationships in Middle School is all about "seeking to understand before being understood".    Get some strategies to help you do this in your own classroom.  #teaching #backtoschool


I think we all know that before we can get students to care about what we have to teach them, we have to show them that we care about them - as people.  

I like to do this during the first week of school with various "getting to know you activities" to break the ice.  But after the ice is broken, I take it up a notch.

One of the best books to use to build community in your classroom!


I am excited to share with you one of the best books I have come across recently to build classroom community!

You're Here For A Reason by Nancy Tillman is a book with a very powerful message:  Each and every person is needed in this world because...
"Even the smallest of things that you do
Blossom and multiply far beyond you."

How great is it for ALL students to hear that they are needed and valued?  AND how amazing is it for them to hear that from their teacher??

How great is it for ALL students to hear that they are needed and valued?  AND how amazing is it for them to hear that from their teacher??  

But it's not enough just to hear it, it has to be brought home to make it "really real" for the students.
I shared this book as a read aloud and then I had all my students come to the front of the room to form a "community circle".  There we all introduced ourselves one at a time and then had a seat on the floor.
I used a toy microphone as a "talking piece" and then asked each person to participate by keeping what is said in the circle to themselves in this community.  Students were also told they had the "right to pass".


Then, I asked if any of us were perfect.  No one indicated they were.  I asked if it was possible for anyone to be perfect.  Again, no one indicated we could be.  So then I said "Well then, it only makes sense for us to focus on progress, not perfection.  What do you hope to make progress on this year?"  I shared first and then I passed around the microphone and listened.  I learned so much about my students!

That led me to say "In this class, we will be focused on writing.  We write because our ideas matter and our words have power.  This means details matter and we need to remember what we stand for. So what do you stand for or how do you want to be known?"

Again, the microphone went around the circle and everyone shared.  Powerful stuff.

Now I was ready to bring it on home.

"I truly believe we are all here in the is class together for a reason.  Together, we can work to make each other stronger.   What is the reason you think we're together?"

I guess I expected one or two snarky answers that share the obvious answer - "to learn"  but what I got was more like "so I can share my talent with perseverance" or "so we can help each other" and "so we can work with one another - you know 'work it out'".  

I really felt a connection at that moment and was feeling like this is the pinnacle of teaching - to form that bond that connects students to school.  That is what it's all about - connections (relationships).  That's what really stops bullying and many of the other social ills we face.  If we could all just take care of each other, what a world this could be!

But for now, I'll settle for my middle school classes.

Want to read it with your classes?  I recorded it here:



Now that the stage has been set for those relationships to take root and blossom, I will be sure to have a "community circle" at least once a month and work on collaborative group activities and assignments to keep the mojo going!

I hope this helps you foster positive relationships with your students too!  Get more relationship ideas in my other posts
 here and here.

Thanks for stopping by!



Back to School - Harry Potter Style!


Every year, my middle school has a theme.  Last year it was "Superheroes".  This year it is "Harry Potter" and I am loving it - even though I have been moved to 7th grade ELA and they are Slytherins...


A peek at a 7th grade ELA Classroom with a Harry Potter theme!



Let me show you around!  


Proclamations of our class agreements hand at the "student center" in the classroom.

This is right by the door and where the students store their textbooks and hand in their work.

The four "proclamations" of rules are actually our agreements.  I talked about this recently on Facebook if you're interested:






Next up is my "Book Nook" with Book Pennants from Study All Knight.  Also pictured here is Madam Pince, the Hogwarts librarian, watching over things:

The "Book Nook" with Madam Pince watching over things.

I recently downloaded a new free app - Booksource - to use to check out my books.  It's pretty great as you just scan your ISBNs to build your library!

I'm also excited about my new reward system.  I use Class Dojo to collect points for every student for following (or not following) our class agreements.

Then, as students reach certain levels of points, they earn certain rewards:

Magical Merit point clubs for students to earn rewards in my Harry Potter themed classroom!


The top reward is the "Prefect Table"!

Harry Potter version of a V.I.P. table - the Prefect Table!

Once students earn 500 points, they get a week to sit at this exclusive table with all the best school supplies and even a snack or two!  :)


I also purchased some Harry Potter themed Growth Mindset Posters and Harry Potter themed Imagery Posters from B's Book Love to display along with "portraits" of Professor Dumbledore and the founders of Hogwarts.

Harry Potter themed Middle School ELA classroom - all set up for a magical year

I'm excited about this new adventure and all the possibilities!

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to visit Stephanie at Forever in 5th Grade for even more great show and tell!

Creating Classroom Community in Middle School


Building classroom community in Middle School can be tough unless you have a smart approach like this one.  #backtoschool #classroommanagement


Creating classroom community in Middle School can be tough.  You only have those students for about 45 minutes and then they're gone.  Then there's that "too cool for school" attitude.  So how do you make those connections?

Well, one thing that has paved the way for me is starting every year with creating classroom agreements.

These are like rules but with better buy-in.

On the second day of school, I give each student 2 sticky notes.  I ask them to write what they need to be successful on one sticky and what they need from me to be successful.  Then I ask them to stick them to the two sides of the board.


Create Classroom Agreements instead of Rules!  #middleschool #teaching #backtoschool #classroommanagement


After school, I move the sticky notes into categories.  Generally, all the notes fit into one of these 4 categories:  Prompt, Prepared, Responsible, and Respectful.  I put them into categories but WITHOUT titles.

So now on the third day, I tell the students that I read their notes last night and found that I could categorize them into groups.  I read all the notes in one group and ask what title to give to the group.  We usually find a word we can agree on.

Then I say "So do we all agree that we need to be _(prompt)_ to be successful?"  Usually, there are nods of agreement and I'll encourage verbal "yes" answers.

I go through this process until all notes have been read and categories have been agreed upon.  Then I say "So now that we all agree this is what we need to be successful, instead of rules, we have these agreements."

Now whenever a student is tardy, I can say "Didn't we all agree at the beginning of the year that we would be on time?"  It puts the onus right back where it belongs - on the student.

Of course, there are consequences for breaking the agreements - pretty much the same as a typical behavior policy.  The first is a warning (see above), the second is a phone call home, the third is a re-teaching assignment (an essay on the area of issue) and finally a referral.  But all of this is framed in terms of what the student said he/she needs to be successful so it's more personal.

Need some more ideas to get that first week of school going?  Try this:



And of course, there are others to choose from:
Take a look by clicking here and see if you find something that matches your style.

Want more great ideas like this one delivered straight to your inbox?  Join the Teacher Troop for this and more!


Thanks for stopping by!

A Busload of Prizes and Surprises!



It's been an amazing summer and I have made many great memories with my own children, but I am hearing the honk of the bus horn!  Why?  Because there's a busload of prizes that just pulled up!






You can also enter the Middle School Mob's giveaway:


You'll get several great tips AND the chance to enter to win several amazing resources PLUS $70 to Teachers Pay Teachers!


and then complete the loop!

And if that wasn't enough Prizes and Surprises for your Back to School excitement, there's also a SALE!


All of my resources, (Yes, EVEN BUNDLES) are the full 25% off with code:  BTS2017

You can get several versions of full week long back to school plans that focus on community building, going over class agreements (rules)/procedures and group dynamics. 


New for this year:


This resource gives you the opportunity to have your students do something with your syllabus instead of just pretend to read it.  ;)

 Students can construct a blank mini-book and fill in all the important information from the syllabus or you can give them a mini-book with all the information pre-printed inside and just have them fold it into a book.  

It is completely editable and comes with a video to show you and your students how to assemble the mini-book.

The best part?  Each mini-book requires just ONE sheet of paper per person!

Well, that's all for now!  I hope this helps you get ready for your best year yet!  

Thanks for stopping by!