All over Twitter and Facebook you’ll find reasons to connect your classroom globally and opportunities to do so. While I believe these are important, and my classroom is participating in several, I’d say connecting should begin and be maintained within your own school. How better to create a positive school climate than to provide students and teachers with the opportunity to work across grade levels and really get to know one another?
Years ago, when I first began teaching, I did book buddies. This usually meant we read together or made a craft. That was all well and good. But it wasn’t enough, or often enough, to foster real relationships. Then, a few years ago my friend and I decided to partner our classrooms to form STEM buddies. We found a great resource on TPT to integrate fairy tales with STEM projects. It’s been an amazing experience.
This isn’t a traditional buddy situation. We read fairy tales and our students build STEM projects to go along with them. It’s truly a win-win for us all. I get to teach with my friend. We get to infuse reading content in a fun way. We get to build. I love trying the projects out as my students are doing them. But more importantly, what we’re really building are relationships. These are between teachers, between students, and between teachers and students. Coleen (second grade teacher) and I compliment each other’s teaching styles and bring our own unique strengths to the projects. Plus, how cool is it that I get to work with my best friend? Her students become mine, and mine become hers. Each of our classes loves seeing the other teacher in the hallways. Often hugs are quickly exchanged as classes pass in the hallways. Our kids love seeing their buddies. They will wave at each other in the hall, applaud loudly for them at assemblies, and if my class isn’t with me, they’ll ask me to tell them hi. With these relationships our students don’t see differences in ability or language barriers. They only see a friend. These relationships aren’t built by meeting once a month, we try to meet weekly. There are of course, those instances when we can’t meet weekly. And boy do we hear about it from our kids. They can’t believe anything would prevent us from meeting with our buddies. We try not to let that happen too often. It’s hard to face a room full of kids giving you the look.
Just recently I was approached about a second buddy opportunity. It would be one that centered on writing and would be an authentic way for third graders and fifth graders to work on writing. My teammate from last year moved to third grade. Emily has been reading through the writing series by Lucy Calkins that we are to be fully implementing this year and had an idea. What if our students had writing buddies? They would write something that meant something to them. Maybe they’d exchange notebooks. They would have a real audience. We’re just getting started with the planning and thinking of what we can do. Maybe this could be a safe place to practice cursive writing. Maybe it’s a way to practice a new style of writing. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a place to develop a love of writing. Where feedback is craved in order to grow. Where telling a story, or sharing what you’ve learned, is more important than any grade. I can’t wait to get started with this new buddy relationship.
Both of these buddy relationships allow me to continue working with teachers I admire even when our teaching assignments have changed. So now it’s time for action. Is there a teacher you admire or want to get to know better in your building? Is there a new teacher who needs a mentor? Are you unsatisfied with the climate or culture in your building? Then do something about it. Approach that teacher about being a buddy classroom. There’s no one right way to be buddies. That’s the beauty of it. It can be whatever you want it to be. While academics might bring you together, it’s the relationships that will make it meaningful and keep you together.