Safe Connected Respected

Sherry Killam, teacher, writer, visual artist

    Sherry Killam

Agenda posted, check.

Materials ready, check.

Feng Shui complete, check.

Names on desks so they know they belong and we know what to call each other. Check.

No matter what grade level or economic status, children arrive at school in the best outfit they can muster, desperate to boost social ranking.   The emotional status meter in the classroom registers everything from flailing panic to catatonic stupor.

The teacher’s goal is for each student to feel safe, connected, and respected.  Unless these conditions are cultivated, learning will be an unnecessarily hard row to hoe.


Welcome  them like  invited guests.  Begin with a personal anecdote and ask them to reciprocate.  I write three words on the board and demonstrate them: giggle, guffaw, and grimace.  Then I say it’s okay to act out one of the words when I say my name:  Mrs. Killam.

After the outburst, I tell them that former students have given me that name.  Then I confess that I married a man named Mr. Killam.

I watch where their eyes go to process this information. Looking up takes them to things they’ve seen before or pictures they are creating visually.  Looking down, to conversations and feelings they remember or are experiencing now.  Good to know where they go first.

Ask  them to share any stories they have about their own name.  Anybody ever mispronounce it?  Spell it wrong?  Make fun of it?  As I listen, I notice how they express themselves, who is quick to share, who is shy and why.

I call this pre-assessment on the fly.

Model Behavior for them to learn.  On this day, I set the stage for the long haul.  We consider two simple rules and talk about what they would look like in action, for example:

1) Respect Yourself
(Do Your Best)

2) Respect Others
(Speak Kindly)
(Hands Off)

Give them a personal survey to find out three things:  their favorite subject,  strongest skills, preferred way to learn things.  Now I can fit assignments to their interests.  We’ve got engagement.

I will plan projects they can work on individually and together.  Sometimes in groups with similar styles, for bonding. Sometimes in groups with different styles, for branching out.

This gives them an introduction to meta cognition.  It’s about knowing how you know. This lays the groundwork for a dynamic learning environment.

Each student matures in fits and starts. The whole group becomes increasingly cohesive from this first day on.

Actually, this ice-breaker sequence could be something to try out in the real world.   Motorcycle clubs?  Fashion design?  Competitive sports?  How about political parties?

Safe, connected, respected.

Abstract rendering of white space forming color sectrum.

Safe Connected Respected

7 thoughts on “Safe Connected Respected

  1. Barbara Roller Romick

    Combination of innate wisdom and the wisdom of experience. You should write a book, wise lady.

  2. Gordy

    Alas! Thanks for the opening verbiage & approach to a workshop I will lead next week. Spot on, as usual!

    Where were you when I was in school?

  3. Lisa McCallister

    How ABOUT political parties? So nicely organized so that my brain can retain! Make ’em feel safe (give them a giggle) connected (repeat their name) respected (what I grok about what they’ve shared)
    More or less. But of course, you said it better.

  4. Sandra Anderson

    Wonderful advice. I’m going to share with the 2nd grade teacher whose class I volunteer in. Terrific piece.

    1. Sherry Post author

      Sweet Suzanne….especially coming from one who was not only a little girl in my class, but later a beloved teaching colleague.


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