As the morning bell rang throughout the halls of our school, I looked towards the faces of my new students and saw excitement, anticipation and wonder. Some of their questions were also mine: What will this year bring? What will we learn? Who will we become?
We started our day by getting to know one another and creating an environment of trust and community. I asked students to move their chairs into one big circle so that we were all united and facing each other, ensuring we started the year off as one collective, united team of individuals. We shared our funny stories, we laughed and started to really know who we all are and how we may learn with and from one another.
One of the highlights of the day was providing my students with an open-ended, collaborative activity of building a structure using pasta and marshmallows. I’ve always loved this because it provides me with a view into how each student learns, how they tackle challenges and how well they work as a team. As I worked with each group, I was blown away by the amount of creativity they each had and the resilience they showed in continuing to build when the marshmallows were sticking to everything but their pasta.
The true value in this activity came to light towards the end when one group had finished and looked to me for what to do next. I looked back and replied, “it’s not a competition, we are a team.” They pondered this for a moment and they moved and dispersed themselves among the other groups to help them complete their creations. I was filled with immediate joy to know that our journey towards building a supportive learning community had started.
On my first day at Greystone Centennial Middle School, I learned that learning occurs in an environment of trust, compassion and support from everyone – students, teachers, colleagues and administrators. I learned that if we model collaborative, supportive teamwork in an atmosphere of fun, our students will not only reciprocate but build upon it and grow.
Dana Ariss is a Grade 5 Educator at Greystone Centennial Middle School.