Fifth grade in January is an interesting time of year. We've just had a long break, but we know each other pretty well. We have routines and relationships. But things are changing, and we can all feel it: we visit our middle school in February, which seems early, but it sets things in motion for the middle school to establish their schedule on time for next year.
When we know we're moving on, sometimes we reject the familiar. It's hard to realize what you'll miss until you don't have it anymore. Likewise, when we are worried about something new, sometimes we can only see what we're giving up, because we don't yet know all the good things that will come. In either case, it can make the spring of fifth grade a rather tumultuous stew of feelings. It's an age where students are learning to find boundaries between themselves and authority figures, the wider community, and each other. It's also an age where they begin to understand complex concepts and ideas, and they are often very passionate about addressing these things. Unfortunately, we don't always make enough room to listen to their ideas or passions in elementary school, because we are busy trying to keep them within the routines and systems of that community.
We began the new calendar year together with a look at our goal-setting - from academic standards to personal achievements. We also looked at the class culture norms we established in August, and I gave the students a list of statements for them to rank in importance for our class, with some empty spaces for them to add their own ideas. These included things like "we have class meetings every day," or "people clean up after themselves" or "people laugh and have fun." As the students sorted the ideas, they said things like, "This is impossible! All of these things are important!."
After the sorting activity, I gave students a collection of quotes and invited them to choose one or create their own that best described the attitude they wanted for our class culture. We only took about 30 minutes to read quotes, select or write one (or more), and create an artistic representation of that idea. I had planned to use FlipGrid so students could discuss their art, but our computers were being used for testing in other grades that week. Here are some of their pieces:
As we looked at our pieces, and reflected about the rankings we had done earlier, it became clear that we couldn't be all the things we wanted to be all the time. It was also clear that we had different priorities about what was most important for our group to look and feel like. So I asked them, "Is it possible to have a class culture where we all value different things, and what's most important changes, depending on what we're doing?"
"Maybe we need to listen to each other more," one student suggested.
I think they just found the key to a positive class culture.
I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada.