Most educators understand the importance of promoting a welcoming environment, especially when new students are adjusting to their classroom. There are plenty of ways to ensure students feel that sense of ease as they enter the room each day. Promoting the idea of our classroom and your classroom creates a mindset of ownership within the students. If students feel they have ownership, they’re much more likely to feel comfortable and (as a result) take better care of their classroom and their materials. As students gain that sense of ownership, the comfortable atmosphere that is so important for learning can also be attained.

I try to employ this thinking process at the beginning of each school year. I’ll continue emphasizing this throughout the year by encouraging students to take care of their space. For the most part, this has been both a positive method to practically keep up with the classroom and our materials, and it also promotes some independence and responsibility for an age group that is ready to handle more.

There have, unfortunately, been times where this process has backfired.

Recently, I allowed a group of students to get out some games and puzzles as a reward for taking care of their work for the day. After having them pack up, I dismissed the students and carried on with my afternoon. A few days later, another class went to use the same games and puzzles around the room. It was a mess. The crate we use to house these items had chess pieces, playing cards, and all sorts of other intricate puzzle parts tumbling through its holes.

To say I was frustrated would be accurate. I did, however, manage to stay calm and went ahead and let this group of students work on something else for a few minutes. Once the innocent class had left, I couldn’t wait to see the class responsible for such a horrible offense. How many times should they write ‘I will not create a mess of the classroom materials’ with their noses pressed firmly in a circle on the chalkboard?

Then it hit me.

I had never taken the time to actually walk through this with them. I had assumed that my students would know exactly how to pack up all of our materials. While I wanted to hold them accountable to be responsible and meet certain expectations, I had never made those expectations clear. The next day, I took a few minutes to demonstrate how all of the games and puzzles needed to be packed away. I also had to erase the circle from the chalkboard.

It wasn’t their fault – it was mine.

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