Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
–Martin Luther King, Jr.
The beginning of the school year is filled with teacher workshops and trainings. I have enjoyed reading posts from fellow bloggers regarding various seminars that have inspired them to think and consider how they want to approach the students in their classrooms intellectually, emotionally, and behaviorally. I, too, have been able to experience motivational trainings as I prepare for the upcoming school year. Today I participated in a workshop focused on the use of positive discipline in the classroom. This topic is not new to the staff at my school as this is our fourth year of delving into the idea. What is new is the movement within the staff to take the whole idea a step further. The collegial conversations and excitement after today will certainly spill over into next week with the arrival of our students. A comment made by Dr. Jody McVittie, director of Sound Discipline (www.sounddiscipline.org), lingered in my mind throughout the rest of the day. She mentioned how structure provides safety for students of trauma and those who are considered the “high flyers” resulting in fewer discipline issues.
One of the reasons the comment lingered in my mind was because I kept thinking how important it is for teachers to make connections at the beginning of the year to create the sense of support and care. At the same time, those connections are reinforced when teachers are able to clearly state the purpose and establish necessary structure within the classroom walls. While this thought was rumbling through my mind, another thought kept invading its territory. In previous entries, I mentioned how physical movement helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Studies have indicated that students who engaged in physical activity regularly had lower levels of anxiety and depression
(Greenleaf et al., 2010; Gondoh et al., 2009; Parfitt et al., 2009). Students who were physically active were showed fewer depression symptoms because they were most likely content with school (Kristjansson et al., 2009). In fact, physically active youth tend to have higher levels of self-esteem, self-worth, and body perception (DeBate et al., 2009). So, if students who are engaged in physical activity are less anxious, and students that are members of classrooms with structured environments experience reduced stress, why not combine the two concepts at the beginning of the year when the change students experience as a result of starting a new school year instigates stress and anxiety.
One of the pillars of establishing positive discipline in the classroom is the establishment of routines. The routines provide students with the necessary structure they strive for in a learning environment. The implementation of physical movement activities at the beginning of the year with a solid structure and easy to follow routine will pave the way for success throughout the school year. More importantly, the structure and the physical movement of students at the beginning of the real has the potential to reduce the stress and anxiety so many of the students are experiencing.
There are several ways to include movement at the beginning of the year. Many teachers design some sort of scavenger hunt or get-to-know-you activities that involve students getting out of their chairs and interacting with others. These are wonderful ways to help students meet students in their classroom communities. Besides these activities, I would emphasize putting the structure in place for actual physical movement activities that will be used throughout the school year and not as a one-time activity.
An activity that I like to introduce mirrors the Vocabulary Tableau activity (to a degree). To emphasize correct pronunciation of vocabulary words, I like to utilize a call-and-respond activity (in fact, that is what I call it). I have all the students stand and I say a word, students repeat the word, I say the word louder, and students say the word louder. I then add a physical movement while saying the word to help students remember the word. Students repeat the movement while saying the word. I then perform the movement without saying the word and students follow suit. I usually try to do this at the beginning of a lesson or class. At the end of class, I call out words and students perform the movement associates with the word. This is a simple activity that I have modified to include key concepts or academic vocabulary that we use in the classroom. The activity requires little explanation and repetition adds structure. Moreover, the emphasis and repetition of correct pronunciation helps to reduce anxiety over difficult words as students encounter the words in the future.
Even if teachers start small, structure plus physical movement can be a powerful way to start the school year successfully. As teachers continue to add to their physical movement repertoires, student engagement may increase while student misbehavior decreases.