My Classroom: A Caring Circle of Friends

Posted on September 15, 2015


From Lia Greenwell

From Lia Greenwell

A few years ago, I received this quote from a former student, Lia Greenwell. She was an undergrad at MSU at the time, and she made it in a printing class. I loved the quote and taped it to my mirror in my bedroom, where it has been ever since. I look at it each morning when I get ready for work.

A couple of years ago, I realized that this quote expresses my vision for my classroom, and I adopted it as my “classroom quote.” Now every one of my students receives this quote, enlarged, to keep in their notebooks with the other first day documents, the syllabus and the Academic Honesty policy. On the back of the quote is the IB Learner profile, a list of 10 traits that we cultivate in ourselves in the IB program: Thinker, Balanced, Reflective, Inquirer, Caring, Knowledgeable, Communicator, Risk-Taker, Open-Minded, and Principled. Using the quote and the Learner Profile, I set the tone at the beginning of the year by making it clear to students that together, we can create an environment where students feel safe to be themselves, express themselves, and grow. It has been a very successful strategy for me. I address most behavior issues with the quote and the Learner Profile. When students’ words take a harsh tone, I remind them, “We’re a caring circle of friends here.” I hear students say it too, when the jokes are flying fast and furious. On the one hand, they’re kidding–saying it in a sarcastic way to call for mercy when they are the target of a joke, but on the other hand–even though they’re joking, they have internalized the idea, and they reinforce it over and over each time they say it.

Building a strong and caring classroom community is one of the most important jobs I have as a teacher. Because I work at creating a caring community in my classroom, my students learn to discuss issues–even issues about which they are passionate and may passionately disagree on–in a civil manner. No matter what ideas are expressed, we remain a caring circle of friends. It is my hope that my students will take this idea into the world with them, into their friendships, their love lives, their families, their work places, and their communities.

I am grateful to Lia for the gift she made for me, and for the idea that is a gift to all my students: we are a caring circle of friends. This gift just keeps on giving. The seed that Lia planted has grown into a garden of delights with deep and strong roots. Thank you, Lia. Thank you, Starhawk, for giving me a powerful motto, a powerful model, to create a caring circle of friends with my students.