10 tips for a connected classroom

On December 19, 2021, a group of ATT early childhood teachers spent their Sunday afternoon very productively by attending a special workshop given by Morah Chaya Shapiro, an early childhood teacher from Far Rockaway, NY. Her session contained specific strategies and tips on how to achieve the goal to keep students happy, engaged, successful, confident, valued and safe. According to Shapiro, building a connection with students allows teachers to achieve these characteristics of resiliency.

Following are Shapiro’s top 10 tips for building connections in the classroom:

Morning greetings

This is the first opportunity of the day to create a connection. Teachers can give students a choice of their favorite morning greeting. Is it an elbow bump, wave, or high five? This shows that the teacher cares about them as individuals.

For example, Morah Chaya wears a necklace with choices that students can point to when they say good morning.

Soliciting opinions

Asking students for their opinion builds rapport and is a good transition activity. Ask students which picture they like best (from a choice of four pictures). If you do this one on one, you will be more likely to hear the student’s real choice. Otherwise, young students conform to the choices of their peers. Remind students that it’s their answer, not their friend’s answer.


Choices help students develop problem solving skills and ensures they will follow through with something. This improves self-esteem and empowers them because they do have a choice. They are not making a decision out of fear and thus feel more connected.

For example, give some options like the following:

  •  “You may give your friend a turn now or you can give him/her a turn in two minutes. What do you choose?”
  • Let the child choose the toy with which he/she wants to play.
  • And when problem solving: “What choice will you make?” Some have an award “paper watch” that says: “I made a good choice.”

Please notice this

When we take time to notice children (without judgement) and their behaviors, then those students feel connected to the day, the learning, and you as a teacher. Remember to say: “I noticed…” It gives you the opportunity to positively comment on ALL students, even the ones harder to compliment.

Partner activities create a sense of belonging

Assign/choose a different partner every day. Use a gimmick to make it exciting. For example, you can do this with two sticks that have the same color or a heart with the same letter of the A, B,Cs. You can create a “friend” day and have a paper that says, “I have a friend.”  You can ring a bell and say, “Look at your friend. Ask their favorite color, candy, etc.” Share a book as partners. Shuffle partners during lunch time.

Show and Tell

Children love showing things from home. You can have thematic show and tell activities – e.g. transportation show and tells, family show and tells, etc.

Knowing your students

You, the teacher, need to take time to think about your students’ strengths, interests, parents, siblings, fears, hobbies, home life, past experiences, etc. Exploring these areas are especially helpful when dealing with a challenging student.

Getting to the root of the problem

Create empathy by seeing your students in the 3D’s listed below:

  • Deep breath – allows us to access our toolbox;
  • Decide – what’s going on? Are they missing a skill?;
  • Demonstrate – every time there is an incident among children, it is a teaching opportunity to demonstrate the correct behavior. Ask: “Did you like it when that happened?” Then discuss the root of the problem, talk to the child(ren), and determine the real issues so you can resolve them.

Classroom jobs

Every child should have a meaningful job that makes the child feel important, needed, and connected to the classroom. Jobs empower children to be responsible and ready to learn. Some larger jobs can be shared by multiple students. There should be a “substitute” job  (like a substitute teacher) in case a child is absent. Be sure to include a “get well helper” job to makes cards for those students  absent from school due to illness.

Breathing exercises

This gives students (and you, the teacher!) the tools to cope with challenging situations and builds resilience. This can be a job choice for students as well, reminding each other to breathe. You can have a basket with breathing exercises, calming lotion, bubbles to breathe in and out, a windmill from the dollar store, a soft pillow, etc. There are lots of examples at https://consciousdiscipline.com/

Bonus tip: “Just Because!”

Do some fun unannounced activities “just because.” Examples include: put on music and dance, finger plays, read a story, paint a picture, puppet show.

By the end of the session, the participants were looking forward to Monday morning to put some of the wonderful tips they had learned into action!