Building Classroom Culture, Part 3: Student Feedback Forms

by | 09.20.19

Monte Syrie is a teacher in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @MonteSyrie.

I believe teachers are creators of culture. We’re not just managers of classrooms or students; we’re builders and curators of our classroom cultures. As the school year begins and students fill my room, I’m building our days together on one conviction: Every time a student walks into my class, for those 55 minutes of their day, I’m responsible for how they feel. 

Every year, I tell my students, “In everything we do in my classroom, from lessons to community activities, this is how I want you to feel: connected, empowered, valued, respected, challenged and supported.” I call this list my “self-standards,” and I really want the kids to take them to heart. This is why I make student feedback forms an important part of my practice. From the very first week, I hand them out on occasion, just to check how everyone is feeling. And I make sure they’re always available for kids to fill out, whenever they want to let me know how they’re doing in my class. 

I share this mindset with my students’ families as well, in the letter I send home at the beginning of the year. As a parent myself, yes, I know the academic stuff matters. Of course it does. But I also know how I want my own kids to feel in school – and I want my students’ families to know how much I care about how their kids feel in school, too. 

Sometimes, a student will turn in a feedback form to share with me that they value our “smiles and frowns” tradition or that they’re glad I let them use a “lifeline” when they need it. Sometimes, they just want to thank me for making them feel like they’re part of a community. Other times, I’ll get feedback that gives me an “aha” moment, such as the time a student brought it to my attention that I wasn’t always mindful about using genderless pronouns. This year, in the first two days of school, I’ll be asking my students about their pronouns. And I’ll make it clear that becoming mindful about that matters to me because the kids matter to me. As we get to know each other, I believe they’ll see I’m willing to own my mistakes and learn from them just as much as I hope they’ll learn from me. 

As teachers, we can’t control everything that happens outside our classrooms, or even inside – a year in my class is a learning experience for everyone, certainly including myself! But I think and believe and live that we are responsible for how we make our kids feel. If we strive to build a classroom culture that values and respects their feelings, we’ll build a classroom culture that empowers and supports their growth. 

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