In this Stenhouse Summer Series blog post, Cheniece Parks shares how she and her students craft a mission statement for the classroom in the first days of school.
We all know that the beginning of the school year can be quite a busy time. Between building routines and procedures, getting to know your students, and the many tasks required of teachers at the beginning of the school year, it can be challenging to know what to prioritize. Yet despite all the beginning-of-the-year to-do lists, I always make time to craft a mission statement with my students. A mission statement allows the class community to create and share goals and aspirations. It can help you and your students make the most of every day.
When I hop into my car, I always have a destination in mind. I may even already know how to get where I am going, but I typically plug the address into my GPS anyway. Doing this helps me understand the quickest way to reach my destination. It allows me to navigate through or go around the traffic, or it tells me precisely how long the traffic will last.
In the same way, you are the head driver of your classroom, so it's essential to begin your journey with the end destination in mind. Your class mission statement, when done well, will help ground you and your students each day and remind you about what is most important. It will allow you to easily navigate the bumps and detours that will inevitably occur in your classroom. The end destination is vital to creating the classroom culture that will help you connect with students, help students connect with each other, and allow you to run a classroom with fewer interruptions and setbacks. So hop in the car and come with me as I share three easy steps for creating the perfect mission statement for your classroom!
1. Connect and work with the students to create shared goals and aspirations.
When I first began teaching, I remember a veteran teacher telling me I should include students in creating class jobs. That sounded great, but I wasn't quite ready to dive into that strategy. As a new teacher, I felt I needed complete control over my class. My class needed to be orderly, and we only did what I could have control over. However, as I became more comfortable in my role as a teacher, I realized that letting go and having more of a student-centered approach led to better results. I created classroom jobs for students during my first two years of teaching. After a couple of years, I included my students in creating jobs for which they applied. This change allowed my students to take ownership of our classroom and their roles within it. It was a great example of what happens when we include students in building the class community. Over the years, I have found the value in obtaining student input. It is their classroom too! Students should have a say in what happens. To craft a mission statement that all students will buy into, the teacher should ask thoughtful questions to get students thinking. These are the questions that I begin with:
- Who are we?
- What are essential principles for our classroom?
- How do we want to feel in the classroom?
- How will we make this happen?
- What do we want to accomplish?
I post these questions on poster paper and leave room to write student responses. You could also have students share their answers on sticky notes or use a worksheet with these questions for individual student reflection before a class discussion. Last year students in my class shared "We are kind kids," and some important principles that students wrote were "kindness," "respecting others," and "learning success." With the students, narrow down the principles most important to the class community.
2. Write the mission statement in the present tense.
When writing the mission statement, use the present tense so students start believing in what they want to happen. Saying, "We will be respectful," sounds much different than "We are respectful."
3. Build a class community by reciting the mission statement every day.
Find a time every day to recite the class mission statement. I do this every morning during our class morning meeting. During this time, we learn or practice a breathing strategy. We discuss different emotions and feelings and how to use breathing or other coping strategies when we start having "strong feelings." We also recite words of affirmation, saying, "I am smart. I am talented. I can do hard things. I can achieve anything!" We end each meeting by reciting our shared class mission statement. Our morning meeting is the best way to start the day because it allows us to build our class community and center ourselves to prepare our minds for academic and social success. Lastly, be sure to find ways to live out your mission statement. If your mission statement says, "We are kind," find ways to show kindness on campus and include your students in that process. This past year, our mission statement said: "In this classroom, we want to feel comfortable and successful." To make this happen, the students needed tools to help them deal with uncomfortable situations and feelings. Throughout the year, we shared different coping strategies. We acted out specific scenarios and discussed how to address each other to help deal with uncomfortable feelings.
Creating a class mission statement at the beginning of the school year is one of the best things I have done to build a classroom community. Students feel welcome, they have a sense of ownership, and we start building positive relationships immediately. Begin your year right and craft that class mission statement with your community of learners.
About the Author
Cheniece Parks has been in education for twelve years. She has worked as a kindergarten, second, and fourth grade teacher. She is passionate about creating a positive classroom and school culture. She strives to create welcoming and enriching spaces for all students. You can find her on Instagram @its.mrsparks.