How we begin something sets the stage for how things will progress. When we put time and energy into starting things right, this can go a long way in making a program successful.
In youth programming, there are a lot of beginnings we need to consider. How do we start our programs, so that we set things up for success? How do we start each week and each day, building in positive rituals and habits that give structure and support to our work? How do we begin specific activities so that we give students context for the work and so they see purpose in what they are doing?
For this week's Try it Tuesday, we share a variety of suggestions for great beginnings. Try them out and see how they work for you.
Program BeginningsWhen teens start the first day of the program, there are a lot of emotions going on. There can be excitement about starting something new, but also nervousness and anxiety--will they make friends and feel like they belong? What are the class expectations and will they be able to meet them? How will the program challenge them and support them? Will they be successful?
As you start your program, your goals will be for everyone to get to know each other and to begin building a sense of community and belonging. This creates the safe space necessary for young people to grow and thrive.
Below are some suggestions for creating safe space and the beginnings of community. Several of them are adapted from Edutopia's Ten Tips for Classroom Management--a great resource!
Meet & Greet
Get creative in your introductions!
Name Games--Learning each other's names is always important! Look for creative ways to begin learning names.
Selfies--Take advantage of teens' natural desire to take self-portraits and have them use their cell phones to take a selfie--maybe in their favorite place or with some of their favorite things. Give this as an assignment for the first day to bring in for the second day. You can have them share the selfie in a private Facebook group or they can text it to you to print out.
Collage Self-Portraits--Bring in a bunch of magazines and some glue sticks, markers and scissors. As an introductory activity, invite students to create a self-portrait of who they are by collaging images from magazines and adding their own drawings or ideas with markers. They can include quotes, pictures, etc. Here are some other ideas for putting the self portrait together.
You can also use this activity to have students respond to other prompts, like "My vision for my life is. . . " or "During this course I want to become. . . "
When they've finished their collages, have them share in pairs or groups of 3-4. If students are willing and space allows, these can be great to post in the classroom.
Setting Group Norms and Expectations
Setting group norms with teens is a great way to invite them into thinking about what spaces and experiences they need to be successful. While we may have some of our own thoughts on the topic, discipline becomes much less of an issue if we invite young people to think about their own success and the structures and rules they need to help them thrive.
Here are some ideas for creating space that supports success:
Design Your Space--One of the most powerful ways to begin engaging young people is in working with them to create the physical space that feels safe and inspiring. If you have the flexibility to do this, it's well worth the effort. Check out this post and resources to get started.
What Helps You Thrive?--In pairs or small groups, encourage young people to talk about the kinds of classrooms and learning experiences that help them do their best work--what helps them thrive? Encourage them to think about what they want to see, hear and feel. Then have them come up with 5 guidelines or expectations they have for how to make these a reality. Have each group write their ideas on a large piece of flip chart paper so everyone can see them. Hang the pieces of flip chart paper on the wall and invite students to walk around the room, read what's written and then "vote" for the 5 guidelines from all the lists that they like best. They can do this by putting a checkmark next to each guideline. At the end, you can add up the votes to see the top 5 and discuss how to use these are your guidelines for working together. In many cases, you may find that you can combine topics (for example, "Respect!" can encompass a lot of smaller rules/expectations like "be on time" or "turn off your cell phone")
How we begin each day can have a great impact on the work that we do together. Setting up the right daily rituals or habits can go a long way toward creating helpful structure for young people. Below we share some different strategies for starting out the day--experiment with one or more of them to see how they work for you and your students.
3-Minute Free Write--At the beginning of each class, start with a 3-minute free-write. Tell students that when you come into a meeting or class it can be really helpful to take a few minutes to clear your mind before you start so you can focus on the work at hand. Have them take out a piece of scratch paper and a pen and start playing some quiet instrumental music or nature sounds and give them exactly 3 minutes to write down whatever is on their minds. When the 3 minutes are up, have students throw away their free writes, signaling that they are setting aside whatever outside thoughts might be intruding on their ability to concentrate right now.
2- Minute Power Posing--Researcher Amy Cuddy has found that body language not only mirrors how we feel about ourselves, changing our body language can actually improve our confidence and sense of self-esteem. She has identified a series of "power poses" that when practiced for 2 minutes a day have been found to improve people's sense of self AND their performance! For example, people who practiced power poses before going into an interview were rated more highly by interviewers than those who had not. So one great way to start the day is by having students practice the power poses for 2 minutes. It may feel silly at first, but over time, can reap great benefits. Learn more about the research here and here. And here are some key high power poses:
A Few Minutes of Mindfulness--Daily doses of quiet breathing and silent reflection can pay big benefits, as this article, How Two Minutes of Mindfulness Can Calm a Class and Boost Attainment, shows. Companies like Google are also embracing the benefits of mindfulness.
It can be as simple as taking 2-3 minutes to breathe deeply and quietly, while listening to calming music or soothing nature sounds. Or you can use one of these mini mindfulness videos:
- 2 Minutes of Mindfulness Practice 1
- 2 Minutes of Mindfulness Practice 2
- 3 Minute Breathing Space Meditation
- 5-Minute Guided Meditation