Rocketeer Citizens

5 Ways to Build Little Citizens

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by Bre Berger
First Grade Teacher, Dallas

Every day on my way to work, I pass a billboard that reads, “Sink or Swim Isn’t a Teaching Philosophy.” If I had seen this billboard before I started teaching, I would have screamed a confident, deafening “DUH!” But eight months in, it’s not an easy task. The billboard serves as a daily reminder that prompts me to question my own teaching philosophy. Am I letting my students sink, or am I teaching them how to swim?

This year my students have had trouble with being kind, patient, and compassionate human beings, but these essential skills are not outlined in my lesson plans. I have had to get creative and dig deep into my own self-awareness to find ways to teach them things that now come naturally to me.

Here are 5 concrete ways we work on being better people in the classroom.

1. Signs and sayings

I have posted motivational slogans around my classroom. My favorite lists the pathways of speaking. “Before you speak think: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?” We also develop motivation slogans and chants that remind us to persevere when things get tough.

2. Inspiring words in morning messages

I always end my morning message with some words of wisdom. I thank TFA-DFW for my most used phrase: powerful yet unfinished. My students now can explain what this means, and we are still working on applying it to different situations.

3. Read alouds

My class and I are inspired by many of the storybook characters that frequent our reading lessons. Our favorite characters include Molly Lou Mellon and Ruby Bridges. These characters exhibit self-control, bravery, and persistence despite everyday challenges such as bullying or discrimination. When discussing issues in class, we reference these characters and wonder what they would do in an unfortunate situation.

4. Stories as a hook

My students know a lot about me (perhaps a little too much). They know my dogs’ names, my favorite movies, and even my fiance’s name. I want to show them that I’m a person who also struggles with and celebrates life. For reading comprehension, I might tell them about a cause and effect situation where my dog fell into a lake. I like to share a part of who I am and how I problem solve to succeed in life.

5. Class meetings

This is by far my favorite method of teaching my students life skills, while also getting to know my students. After lunch, we sit in a circle. I ask a question, or I let them choose a question that everyone answers. We have to wait patiently and listen to each other’s answers, teaching us how to be good speakers and listeners. If we are having a rough day or something major happens, we may also call a class meeting and discuss how we are feeling and what strategies could improve the situation. Our class meetings give us a sense of pride and acceptance, and we look forward to meeting as a community each day.

Teaching my students how to be “good swimmers” in life is a work in progress. We are powerful yet unfinished. We have become better listeners, but we don’t always say things that are kind. We always try our best, but we are still learning how to solve problems on our own. I work with my class to ensure that all students are learning how to interact confidently and respectfully with others around them. However, I fall short each day.

I can always be better and do better for my students in teaching them how to be responsible citizens. This task is unfinished, but one thing is certain: my students know that they are powerful. They are little, but they are powerful.

This post was originally published on TeacherPop. It has been republished here with permission from the author. 


Bre Berger grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She is a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University, where she studied Dance Performance and Elementary Education. Bre is a 2014 Teach For America corps member teaching first grade in Dallas.

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