Students move around the classroom in conversation with each other. One student looks directly into the camera with a smile on their face.
Toolkit

Back to School: Building Community for Connection and Learning

This toolkit of teacher resources and classroom activities will help you lay a foundation for a reflective and caring community in the opening days of the school year.

Published:

At a Glance

Toolkit

Language

English — US

Subject

  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12
  • Culture & Identity
  • Equity & Inclusion

Overview

About This Toolkit

Teachers and students are returning to the classroom this fall after another year of remarkable challenges and disruptions, and educators may feel pressured to jump right into instruction. When teachers take the time in the opening days to nurture community, build relationships, and attend to students’ social-emotional needs, they lay the foundation necessary for students to engage with the content, take risks, and support one another.

The modular and flexible resources in this toolkit include professional learning for educators grounded in four core priorities of trauma-informed instruction; daily routines for creating continuity and helping students feel safe and emotionally secure; and classroom activities that foster trust and a sense of belonging in the classroom for the school year ahead.

This toolkit is designed to be flexible. You can use all of the resources or choose a selection best suited to your classroom. It includes:

  • Educator reflection questions and actions steps 
  • 10 activities for the first days of school
  • 10 routines for beginning a lesson
  • 5 routines for ending a lesson
  • Readings, handouts, and videos to accompany activities

Preparing to Teach

Preparing to Welcome Students Back to School

This back-to-school toolkit is designed to help you lay the foundation of community and care with your students for the school year ahead. As you prepare to welcome your students back to school this fall, we recommend the following:

In order to develop classroom communities that are centered around relationships and care, educators need to start with themselves. This process involves reflecting on your individual identity (and considering how your identity uniquely impacts your lived experience), and then becoming aware of your beliefs, values, biases, politics, and emotional responses. Doing so empowers educators to be thoughtful about how these forces and factors influence their interactions with and expectations of their students.

Students will bring a range of experiences from the past two years into the classroom. Incorporating SEL (social-emotional learning) strategies to build relationships and develop empathy will help students feel connected to their learning and to one another. This is especially important for students who have experienced trauma and/or grief caused by the pandemic and recent events in their communities and the world at large. 

Consultant and community college teacher Alex Shevrin Venet discusses four core priorities for trauma-informed instruction: connectedness, predictability, flexibility, and empowerment 1 . At the heart of this approach lies the relationships between students and teachers. When teachers prioritize cultivating these relationships and developing students’ SEL competencies, everyone benefits. 

  • Connectedness: When students have a strong relationship with their teachers and peers, it is easier to support their emotional well-being and respond to their urgent needs as these arise. Students need regular reminders that their teachers care about them, and they need opportunities to connect with one another in informal and academic contexts. 
  • Predictability: By creating predictable routines and structures, teachers can help their students feel safe and emotionally secure. Using routines such as check-ins and journaling can help students engage with the learning and can support their emotional well-being.
  • Flexibility: Incorporate best practices in culturally responsive teaching and differentiation by adopting a flexible approach to instruction and assessment. Prioritizing what really matters in a given moment, even if it means letting go of some content, and engaging students in this process allows them to feel a sense of agency over their own learning and the classroom environment. 
  • Empowerment: A classroom environment that takes into account the social-emotional needs and wide range of experiences that students bring with them empowers students by including them in the class decision-making and provides them with authentic choices and tasks. Tapping into their expertise and interests and giving them voice and choice to make decisions about their learning will develop their SEL competencies and their sense of agency.

At Facing History, we recognize that once again, educators and students are returning to school this fall after an unusually disruptive and challenging period. Setting aside time for personal reflection and self-care by making room for the people and things that bring you joy will help you recharge so you are intellectually and emotionally available to your students and loved ones this year.

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Additional Resources

Resources from Other Organizations

We have partnered with Pear Deck to create Google Slides for all of the Back to School activities and routines in this collection.

Unlimited Access to Learning. More Added Every Month.

Facing History and Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

The resources I’m getting from my colleagues through Facing History have been just invaluable.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif