Flipped Classroom – Building Community Before Day One
When I think of my first day of high school, I think of the anxiety I felt: the building seemed huge, the people seemed old, and the idea of balancing multiple classes was overwhelming. So when I look at my rosters for my incoming Algebra 1 students, I can’t help but sympathize.
For several years, I had been using a survey created by a colleague to introduce myself to my IB seniors, and to find out more about them. And this year, when I found out I was teaching freshmen for the second year in a row, I knew it would be a great idea to find out more about them too. So, I created a similar Google form survey for them to complete, and emailed it to all of them. (If you decide to do this, remember to email it to yourself, and “blind-copy” the students.) The survey contained questions about last year’s math class experience, how they felt coming into this year, what other activities they would be involved in, and anything else I should know about them.
The results came back in a Google spreadsheet. And I was amazed at the sincerity of the responses, but more importantly, I was grateful. I learned that two of my incoming students are shy and don’t like to talk in class, one student likes to socialize but promises he will get his work done. Several were nervous about math not being their best subject, while others were worried it would be too easy. Some responded to the survey using nicknames, which I made a note of. Some students had a great summer, and others lost family members happen during those months. I kept notes on all of this so that I can be more sensitive to each student as they walk in my classroom.
But I wanted to do more. I wanted them to know that I appreciated their responses, and I had carefully read each one. So for every response I got, I sent an email back to the student, welcoming them, encouraging them, letting them know that I would do whatever it takes to match my instruction to their learning paces and styles, but more importantly, letting them know that I value each of them as a unique human being.
Knowing their names is pointless, though, if you can’t match them to the faces. So once the first day arrives (tomorrow), I will have each student make a name plate out of a folded piece of paper. Then, table by table, I will take pictures of the class, promising the students that the pictures will not be published in any way. I will also clarify any pronunciations with them and make notes of any that may cause me trouble. My homework will consist of looking through the pictures and remembering all of the students and the pronunciations of their names. The next time I see those students, I will quiz myself by going around the room and naming all of them. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I can only imagine how special I would feel if the teachers of this huge building already knew my name by the second day of classes.
I think that the teacher-student relationship has a lot to do with how valued a student feels in high school, so I am always looking for ways to strengthen that relationship, whether it’s before I ever meet them, while we work together in class, or the following year when they’ve moved on to their next math class.
Often I stay in touch with my students long after they graduate. Sometimes it’s just an annual “happy birthday” message from me on Facebook, and sometimes it’s checking “I will attend” on a wedding invitation.
I’m excited to see how the survey and emails to students will affect the classroom environment on day one, and I can’t wait to match these names and personalities to their faces. I am hoping that stress and conflict will be reduced greatly, and I’m hoping that they see me as not just as their teacher, but someone who genuinely cares about them, and will be there for them when they need it.
Whether these students realize it or not, they now have someone new in their lives who will be thinking about them for a long time, wondering about their futures, and excited for what they are preparing to achieve in the many years of opportunities that lie ahead of them.
This is what teachers do – teaching children is my job, but caring about them is my purpose.