Laurie Keller’s book, Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners is another great read-aloud to introduce to your students during the first week of school. It serves as the perfect introduction to classroom expectations. Mr. Rabbit has new neighbors – the otters – and he is panicked! What if they don’t get along? The wise old owl offers a bit of advice with a fun twist on the golden rule: Do unto otters as you would have otters do unto you. The book guides us through the different ways Mr. Rabbit would like the otters to treat him, based on how he would like to be treated. He wants them to be friendly, polite, honest, considerate, cooperative, kind, fair, and forgiving; all traits any of us would list as desirable qualities in a classmate or teacher. Similarly, our students are likely meeting new classmates who they may be feeling anxious about sitting next to or working with as partners or group mates. For a free bookmark, click here.
The beginning of the year is the obvious time for setting expectations, establishing routines and procedures, and setting up rules or agreements. I used to work in an IB school where each class had to establish a set of essential agreements. These are the things all students (and teacher) agree are necessary and important for us to be able to have a safe, happy, efficient, and effective place to learn and grow. First, students brainstorm their ideas (all are accepted) which are charted by the teacher. Then, most ideas can be filtered down into what become five basic agreements. First and foremost, respect everyone and everything (read more on how to make respect a little more concrete here). Second, we tackle the issue of safety by establishing the agreement to keep hands, feet, objects, and unkind words to yourself. I really like the addition of unkind words here because hurting the heart and mind can be just as painful as physical harm. Third, we want to be efficient so we all agree to come to class organized and prepared. As students become more independent – especially around third grade – this agreement is necessary so that students realize the impact it has on the rest of the class when they fail to do their part. Fourth, students need to make sure that they use the appropriate voice level for the assigned activity (read more about voice volume here). Students need to remember that we are sharing a room with many students, and they need to be reminded of the importance of being mindful of our voice volume based on where we are and what activity we are doing. Finally, the last agreement is: do not interrupt or disrupt others. This can refer to two students playing a math game, the whole class during sustained silent reading time, a guest speaker, a student or group of students giving a presentation, a teacher during a read-aloud, or any other scenarios where interruption could cause the person or persons to become distracted or lose their train of thought. This is where raising your hand or using other hand signals that limit interruption and disruption should be addressed. All five of these rules are recorded on chart paper and the students – if they agree (which they always do because they want to sign their name with a Sharpie) – sign their name on the poster to be posted in a visible spot in the classroom so it can be referenced throughout the year. Whatever rules or agreements you decided to use, make sure you stick to them. Or, if need be, amend them as you and your class see fit. Like the Constitution, it can be a living document that changes as the needs of your class change.