At the beginning of each of the past several school years, I have spent one class period having students define expectations, developing a vision for the classroom. As I told my students this year, this day is the most important of the year.
Last year I decided to organize my classroom around two precepts: 1) respect everyone and 2) focus on the learning. This week, we spent time diving deep into these ideas to determine what they are going to look like in our classroom. When I asked my students to help me define what it looks like when a teacher respects students, some were very quiet. Perhaps it was the first time they had been asked this question. Perhaps they weren't sure I was serious. Perhaps they thought it was some sort of trick. However, after a few minutes of wait time, students begin to seriously consider the question. One student said, "You need to listen to me when I'm talking to you." Diving deeper into this, students said they wanted eye contact. One student even suggested a "verbal and visual response" when she was talking to me. I hear variations of this every year. It's simple really; students want to be heard--they want to know that we are listening.
The idea of being heard and seen came up in another, more tentative, comment from a student: "Maybe you could ask us how we're doing?" This was confirmation of what we've heard about how much relationships matter. This was a student, speaking for his peers, asking for that relationship.
We continued the day by defining what it looks like when students respect others, when teachers focus on learning, and when students focus on learning. Through it all, I added very little to the list because it is my goal to ensure that my students realize that we're building the classroom culture together. They were the ones defining the expectations for the class--our class.
If you're not already having your students contribute to building the classroom culture from the beginning, you might consider starting with an activity like this. This culture building sets the stage for the cooperative knowledge building and problem solving that the NGSS requires throughout the rest of the year.