It’s that time of year again. The lazy days of summer are wrapping up and a new school year will begin. Children and teachers alike are filled with anticipation, excitement and nervousness. Teachers are preparing their rooms, bulletin boards and class materials. They will be reviewing class lists and making curriculum preparations. Everyone is hopeful that their new classroom and experience will be a positive one where all students feel valued, welcomed and inspired.
Teachers know that the first days of school are important for establishing routines, expectations, rules or norms. Often they start with some ‘getting to know you’ activities, activities to establish routines and guidelines to develop positive working relationships. Teachers know that creating a positive learning environment in the early days of school is key to establishing a climate conducive to learning for the whole year. Indeed research demonstrates that a positive school and class climate increases student learning and achievement, and prevents bullying .
We all understand the importance of a safe learning environment but for many of us creating that environment in practice can be a challenge. The work starts in the first days of school when we emphasise that all students have different strengths and needs, and everyone has something valuable to contribute to the class community. This involves making positive relationships a priority, providing students with opportunities to develop and practice empathy, compassion and conflict resolution skills. Teachers need activities that are engaging and promote these skills in students.
Not-for-profit educational resources, such as the Rick Hansen School Program, provide educators with a range of practical teaching tools that support the development of a positive school environment beginning with the first days of school. The Program provides lessons and activities that engage students in a number of key ways:
• Students learn to set goals, support others, and take leadership. Through practical activities and projects the Program fosters respect for differences and social responsibility. In a recent survey 94% of students said taking part in the Program inspired and empowered them to make a difference in their communities.
• The Program focuses on disability awareness, which promotes key characteristics of a positive class climate such as equity, fairness, caring and sensitivity. An independent report by leading consultancy firm Deloitte LLP found that 100% of educators saw positive change in student willingness to interact with people with disabilities after an introduction to the Program.
• Moreover, the impact of the Program goes beyond people with disabilities. By supporting acceptance of diversity, respect and understanding of differences, disability awareness programs encourage positive interactions among all students. As part of the Deloitte report educators reported that the Program resulted in decreased bullying; increased student initiatives to improve the classroom, school or community; and increased volunteerism.
• The Program supports inclusive education initiatives which value diversity and promotes understanding of others. It can be a key tool in creating and maintaining inclusive cultures that encourage understanding, acceptance, mutual respect in order to make school communities more equitable.
A key feature of Rick Hansen School Program lessons and activities is that they are easy to use and support provincial curriculum. Teachers comment that “We are very impressed by the quality and scope of the materials. They provide the foundation and framework for a challenging and beneficial unit of study involving a true Canadian hero and a wonderful role model for our students.”
The Program can be used to establish a positive climate at the beginning of the year and to maintain that climate by using individual lessons and activities throughout the year. Students can start learning about equity, fairness, caring and sensitivity through activities in September, and then learn about community responsibility and leadership through different activities throughout the year. One teacher who used the materials with her class in 2015 commented that the activities and lessons “fit into our learning about being caring, thoughtful, and mindful” and were “very enlightening. It’s important for kids to experience this earlier in life so they grow up to be more inclusive and mindful.”
The Rick Hansen School Program includes free, ready-made resources to support teachers and schools, and is suitable for delivery even in low-income communities, as well as rural and remote schools. Start the year off with fun, active and inclusive activities, while developing your class climate. It’s free, easy and fun!
Free resources can be downloaded or ordered at www.rickhansen.com/schools.