"I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities you can change the world." --Erin Gruwell

This quote embodies my teaching pedagogy. I see the ELL classroom as a community of amazing cultures coming together through sharing and celebrating knowledge. By incorporating multiple strategies and methodologies in the class, students feel a sense of belonging and importance. This classroom culture sets up the power of trust, respect, and the beginning of positive change.

I have always taken pride in my teaching, but especially in creating a "safe haven" in my ELL classrooms over the past twenty years. Why is this non-threatening atmosphere so vital for the academic, social, and emotional growth of our ELL students? My belief is, that in order to teach the whole student, both the teacher and student benefit from knowing as many aspects possible (both positive and negative) of each other.

Over the past years of teaching (I am a newly retired ELL English/Reading teacher), I always started the year with trust-building activities. We completed interest and reading surveys to learn more about each other. Students who were from different countries interviewed each other. We also completed an assignment from Erin Gruwell's Freedom Writers called "Coat of Arms," which required students to create and present a poster about their personal goals, why they were unique, people they admired, and a list their favorite things. All of the above activities allow teachers and students to build trust and respect while supporting healthy relationships. Laying the groundwork for a fun, vitalized, tolerant classroom environment is worth every minute of work and planning. Let's get to it!!

5 Important Ideas for Building Classroom Trust

  1. Day one of the school year - Conduct interest and reading surveys. Make sure to model and participate yourself so your students can get to know you!

  2. Day two of the school year - Have peers interview one another. Ideally, have students be from different countries if possible. Have the students share about their interviewee to the class.

  3. Day three-five of the school year - Complete the "Coat of Arms" Freedom Writers assignment. Many different variations of this assignment can be found through Google. Post in the classroom as a constant reminder of the importance of each student. Nice decorations, too! Be prepared with quarter sized poster boards, magazines they can use as cut outs, markers, scissors, glue, etc. You know the routine. Put on some fun music and get to know each other. You are setting the groundwork for the whole year in the first 5 days of school. You won't regret it!!

  4. After the first five days, make sure to show genuine interest in each student. You may:
    • Attend one of your students sporting events

    • Go to a school play

    • See a student perform in a school concert

    • Provide information regarding: clubs to join, school dances, spirit week, scholarships for college, or maybe giving names of school social workers or psychologists. There is just a plethora of ways to show interest in our ELL students.


  5. Make an effort to call home and encourage parent/guardian participation in their child's school. This is SO important, yet we know how difficult it is, right? Worth the effort. Also, encourage family to attend Open House and Parent Teacher Conferences! This article has more ideas about encouraging family involvement.


It is vital for our ELL kids to feel supported, respected, and trusted. You DO make a difference!

Until next time, Adios, Ciao, Au Revoir, auf Wiedersehen, Shalom, Alavida ...

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