Ciji Thurman is always looking for opportunities to try new things with her students. This year, she engaged her students in a brainstorming session about what makes their classroom a caring space and shared her experience below.
What practice did you try with your students?
What inspired you to try this practice?
Each year I aim to build a classroom environment that fosters a caring climate where students feel safe to share their thoughts, ideas, feelings, etc. But, I have (more often than not) put this entire responsibility upon myself. The more I grow as an educator and just as a person, I find that I can’t do it all or with only the help of other adults. The students are the reason I am there and why I come to school every day so it is only right that they are the focus of this practice.
What surprised you about the practice?
What surprised me about this brainstorming practice is that the students have so many ideas that are WONDERFUL! Not only that, they are willing to share because they are so rarely asked their opinion. We sat down and had a genuine conversation about what a caring classroom looked like and it developed into a conversation on social injustices. I was listening to a conversation among students in fourth grade that had more ideas and solutions than most adults.
As I sat there listening, the students held an open conversation without me. Towards the end of it, one of the students suggested that the class help others and stand up for each other. The students agreed to be advocates against bullying and “mean people.” Although the brainstorm took a different route than expected, it opened my eyes to the fact that although only in elementary, these students are much more aware than many give them credit.
What would you like to tell fellow educators who might be thinking about trying something similar with their students?
I went into this practice by making a plan. And when I get into the classroom I feed off of the students. It looked different than what I’ve planned but I’m open to going with the flow of the students.
This practice was also a way for me to build on what I was already doing with my students. I have a lunch bunch and students can choose to sign up. It’s an opportunity for students to meet with me in small groups and have conversations. I’m open and honest with my students — I tell them the truth. So having a group conversation was a natural progression of that structure. And having honest conversations is such great ways to build that community and climate in our classroom and our school.
Thank you so much, Ciji!