Finding Joy in Our Classrooms and Community
By Christine C. Halliday, MHS Second-Grade Teacher
After 17 years of teaching at Milton Hershey School, I still love to walk into my second-grade classroom and see the joy that my students get from learning and exploring. Separation and isolation are not typical characteristics of strong communities, and yet, in the face of a pandemic, there was a measure of separation that became necessary. Finding ways to connect, share, affirm, and collaborate while physical distancing was a challenge—especially in the classroom. It made coming back together in a normal classroom setting so much more exciting.
During the time we spent learning virtually, I learned so much as a teacher—especially around the definition of community. When my students were at home and we would conduct classes through video conferencing, I got to know my students’ families in a deep and collaborative way. I also saw the joy that they had in integrating me into their homes.
I felt more connected to my students by having this new daily look into their home lives and I could see that the parents/sponsors also were getting a deeper sense of our classroom and community. There was a sense of belonging to each other and a new bond forged over being in the same storm at the same time.
As we’ve transitioned back to the classroom, I wanted to hold on to some of that magical connection, so I allow my students to invite their parents/sponsors into our class virtually once each quarter. My students’ families are just as important to our classroom community as the students themselves.
As life begins to resemble a pre-pandemic experience, I want to bring more joy to my classroom. I use energetic and fun activities to get the students moving, music to engage their minds, and morning meetings to remind us of the community we have around us.
But I’m also mindful that the students I’m teaching had a very different kindergarten and first-grade experience than the students I’m used to teaching. There are now new hurdles as we navigate the joys and challenges of working together, sharing, waiting patiently for others, and the absence of mute buttons. I’ve spent more time this year than in other years reinforcing those early skills of collaboration, teamwork, patience, and kindness that are harder to practice when you’re alone in your room than when you’re in a bustling classroom full of your peers.
I’m excited to have less physical barriers between myself and my students but more importantly between the students themselves. I love seeing students work together in groups again, read to each other, pat one another on the back, and offer a hug. We won’t soon take those things for granted after going so long without them.
Milton Hershey School partners with parents/sponsors to nurture and educate every student to lead fulfilling and productive lives. Learn more about the partnership between MHS and parents/sponsors.