A big part of leading a caring, compassionate community was learning about the kids and treating them respectfully no matter what. Building a community takes time, especially in the beginning. It takes time to get to know the kids and to help them get to know you and one another. It takes time to involve students in setting up classroom rules and procedures, and to teach kids how to behave.

With my old discipline system, I could just put someone’s name up on the board and immediately the room would be quiet. While I was getting order quickly and easily, I wasn’t setting up a place where the kids felt safe. Quite frankly, I was starting to get burnt out. I was setting up a classroom that even I didn’t want to be in.

While the time and effort involved in creating a caring community are substantial, I believe the rewards justify both. I saw much more serious work than I had ever seen before. And the kids began to feel good about themselves. They felt good that they were able to read and that they enjoyed reading. They learned how to settle differences and talk to one another. In the beginning, I think they thought that the world was out to get them. Over time, they learned to be more trusting. They learned that accidents happen. Sometimes people bump into you. They don’t want to fight you; they just accidentally bumped into you. Such a simple thing, but it made a big difference.

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For me, the greatest rewards were in the growth of the children—seeing them grow into serious learners and kind, empathic people. Tralin, for example, was an angry little girl who came into the classroom wanting to take care of herself and nobody else. She matured into a capable and caring person who realized that she had a responsibility to herself and to other people to do the very best job she could. To help a student, especially a struggling student, rise to her potential is a teacher’s greatest joy.

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