Creating a Homeroom Community
A MiddleWeb Blog
A teammate had been ill the previous year, and I thought it might make the transition back to school easier for her. She wouldn’t need to deal with all of the paperwork (report cards, schedules, daily attendance, passing out fundraising handouts, etc.).
I had been a homeroom teacher years ago when our school was first built, and I loved the connectedness with a variety of kids that I wouldn’t normally work with. (I had a specific group of students on IEPs in my self-contained classes.)
The principals both liked the idea and also gave homerooms to some of the other teachers who hadn’t been homeroom teachers in a while. I have 23 students in my homeroom, including five kids on IEPs who are in inclusion classrooms with me, and one who is in a self-contained classroom with another special education teacher.
For those of you who are currently homeroom teachers, or have been in the past, you know that having a homeroom can be a lot of work and responsibility: taking attendance each day, collecting signed report cards and quarterly mid-term reports, making sure students listen to the morning announcements, etc.
But here’s what I love: having a homeroom can also be an opportunity to bond with kids you might not normally see during the day, a chance to make connections with students in a less formal situation.
A homeroom community
I decided that as a homeroom teacher this year, my first goal for the kids and for me would be to Create A Community. On our first day together – one of the most important, stressful and exciting days for kids (and for us!) – I began to establish routines, provide emotional support (I teach 6th grade so this is the huge transition year from elementary school), teach the kids how to do a combination lock, understand their schedules, review our school’s rules and policies in the student handbook, make sure we all know where the restrooms are located and how to find other classes.
I wanted to inspire my students on that first day and took a fantastic idea from my dear friend Cindi Rigsbee, a North Carolina Teacher of the Year and author of Finding Mrs. Warnecke. Cindi, a middle school teacher herself, played the song Unwritten by Natasha Beddingfield for her new students.
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is, where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten
I decided to dedicate the song to them, my homeroom students, to have a wonderful first day of middle school. As they exited our classroom, I had a brainstorm: what if every week I dedicated a song to them a la Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 Long Distance Dedications? (If you happen to be a baby boomer, you probably remember listening on Sunday mornings).
The following week was It’s Always a Good Time by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen. I thought that could be our homeroom theme song (I explained what a theme song was since some of them didn’t know!). Then, the best thing happened – my students asked me if they could choose the dedication song each week. How cool are my homeroom students?!
Sometimes the songs are typical sweet and goofy kid songs taken from the radio, and sometimes the songs make me cry: Brittany Nicole’s Gold, for example. I wrote the words on the board: ”You’re worth more than gold.”
I’m really, really lucky this year: our district doesn’t block YouTube and I have an LCD projector, so we watch a video of the latest selection together as they get ready for their week.
What I’ve learned from my homeroom
When we have time on Monday afternoons and Friday mornings, I let the students share. On Fridays we talk about our plans for the weekend or the upcoming holidays, vacation. On Mondays, we find out how were their weekends, the school dance Friday night, etc. Sometimes we just talk.
I learn so much from these kids. One day I asked them to raise their hands if they spoke another language besides English at home. Three-fourths of them raised their hands. This segued into talk of their family’s heritage, culture, whether they could remember their homelands and missed them. Me, learning about them as people, individuals.
One student, Anthony, shared about his dad’s Middle Eastern restaurant being awarded 3 and 1/2 stars for their food. I got very excited! Do they make falafel and hummus? Of course! Anthony helps out after school, and the next day a package was on my desk with, you guessed it, the best falafel and tahini sauce I’ve ever had.
When my students share their songs, sometimes I learn about the latest trends, what’s popular with kids (I don’t have kids myself, except my three fur-kids). Valuable information for a middle school teacher.
My students taught me about Gangnam Style and actually taught me the dance. In this blurry picture (I’m moving fast!), I’m wearing my Christmas Tree hat and ornament sweater before our break for the winter holidays.
My awesome student assistants
As homeroom teachers know, there’s a long checklist to accomplish each morning: take attendance, collect fundraiser money, keep track of field trip permission slips, answer the classroom telephone (my phone rings A LOT!), check off signed report cards, and so forth.
I soon realized my students could help me and become my assistants! I have a long table with bar type chairs that I bought (as a floor model) at the local Mill Store. My attendance assistants have a list of everyone in our homeroom and check off the names of kids for me who are absent or present. I then take this list and enter it into our electronic attendance program. It saves me a lot of time in the morning, because the kids can tell me orally who is absent. I have two students who do this, and a third is the back up if one of them is absent.
It’s a big deal to sit at the front table in those big chairs. If you have enough responsible kids you can rotate this job and have the experienced assistants train the newbies (make sure you handpick responsible kids!).
For other kids who want to be assistants I’ve come up with the rotating job of answering the phone: “Ms. Wasserman’s room, may I help you?” and taking a message if I am assisting a student or otherwise involved. (I keep a magnetic mini white board and marker next to the phone for this purpose).
I also have handout assistants who pass out all the fundraiser forms, field trip permission slips, picture forms, etc. It saves me time at the end of the day. The kids sign up on my classroom calendar for each month, and we keep a list for the current month on our board. They even come up with jobs for themselves: date changer, weekly dedication song list writer, “reminder” (reminding kids to put up chairs, etc.), and substitute coordinator (helping the substitute when I’m absent and sharing what happened when I return).
People tell me having a homeroom is a lot of work, but you know what? It really isn’t if you give kids the responsibility of helping you, which gives you time to have a little fun.