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Making Students Feel At Home At School

For some students, and by virtue of that, some teachers, this topic may be of no practical impact. In particular communities, and for particular cultures, the transition between home life and school life is quite similar. But, for many students, the rules of communication, engagement, and the overall culture that exists in the school may be – no check that – is, very different than home life. There are then those students who feel such a divide between what goes on in their community and in their schools that they make a decision to distance themselves from school in general; school, to these students who do not feel “at home” at school, becomes an alienated place to spend their day. But when students feel at home at school, they are more engaged, take learning into their own hands, and feel a sense of agency and pride in their work. These correlations can be substantiated by evidence, but this is a blog and not an academic paper, so I feel no pressure to provide that at this time – believe me or not, this is fact.

 

We can derive from this then that the students who feel most out of place in a school setting are our most vulnerable students. So the question then becomes, how do we make our most “vulnerable students” feel comfortable in a setting that is ultimately intended to benefit them at all cost? Well, I am no expert but you can say that my “advice” (I use that term very loosely) is derived from my experience in the classroom, both as student and teacher. To give it an “academic-ish” ring, it is practice-based theory, and not the other way around.

 

Arguably, the most salient strategy involving making students feel at home at school comes from the trope of what it means to be inclusive. Including the culture of your students into their academics creates engagement. (I’ve written about this before…somewhere…but at this point, between my blogs, my Thesis, and my courses, the particular location of where I elaborated on this topic is a fuzzy blur to me). Brief example number one: at the beginning of the year, I “let” my students re-create the classroom. The parameters were loosely defined (No, kids, we cannot have a PS4 station for chillaxing when you’re finished all your work). My students, of course, came up with some fundamental symbols of the post-modern traditional classroom: a math wall, a student work wall, and a reading corner were all things we included. But students also came up with new and innovative aspects of the classroom that expressed important elements of their culture: we now have a Twitter Wall, and an IG wall. It is not too hard to take “their culture” and gently mold it into “school culture”. Our IG wall has only one caveat; the pictures posted (with our Polaroid Snap camera – hopefully they don’t break it before Christmas!), must demonstrate student learning. So, our wall consists of students doing school shit – working in groups on activities, photos of completed projects and work, all that type of stuff. Voila, I now have a “Student Documentation Board” in my classroom. Cutting edge pedagogical stuff, isn’t it? Only difference, it has a cool name. Our Twitter Wall is where students park a thought, experience, or insight they gained throughout the course of the week. We “tweet” on Fridays before the day ends. I am hoping that some of our tweets align with some of our photos. But if they don’t, they are both valuable to me and to my students. My students are still learning how to be self-reflexive of, and in, their learning.

 

Above all, both these examples situate ways teachers can include student culture into the classroom. Other examples include being cognizant of the type of posters you put up. In my class, our “reading wall,” or our “Get Lit (erature)!” board includes, not quotes from Shakespeare and other famous old, white dead people, but instead, rappers. Long story short, kids know these figures, think they are cool, and subsequently think reading is cool, since these quotes are situated in the reading corner (well, that is my elevator-pitch version of the philosophy behind it anyways). This is turning into a long blog; I didn’t even get to touch on how to actually infuse elements of particular cultures into curriculum and teaching strategies. For the sake of not boring you, I think I’ll stop there for now. Making students feel at home at school is an intricate and provocative topic. And that is why every teacher should be mindful of their practice in this regard. It is easy to leave students out even when we are still trying to do the best job we can do in the classroom.

 

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