The Power of Welcoming Rituals
Think back to that special teacher from your childhood. What made them so special? It likely wasn’t what they were teaching, it was how and why they were teaching. It was that bond, that connection, that feeling you had walking into the classroom that allowed you to learn and grow.
Creating that same feeling you had as a child is intentional and takes effort, albeit one that is well worth the investment as quality teacher-pupil relationships have been consistently linked to students’ academic and social-emotional outcomes (Hamre & Pianta, 2001).
Welcoming rituals are an ideal first step in creating a positive culture within the classroom, one that sets the stage for social and emotional learning. Initiating routines for respectful communication while allowing people to connect and giving students a voice goes a long way in creating an inclusive classroom community.
Ideally, welcoming rituals are well planned, appropriately facilitated and connected to the learning objectives of the day. They also offer an opportunity for a reflection of thoughts, feelings and emotions to reinforce positive behavioral norms.
A welcoming routine is not necessarily something that is used every day by every teacher. Rather, it is one of many tools to promote a positive classroom climate. While there are obvious times when one is needed (e.g. start of the year, return from winter break or welcoming a new student), its best to gauge the physical, emotional and intellectual needs of students before deciding when to implement a welcoming ritual.
According to CASEL, there are several things to consider when thinking through a welcoming ritual. If the group seems lethargic and needs a pick me up, perhaps select a routine that involves movement. If emotions are running high, an activity that maximizes opportunities for individual and group discussion to “talk things out” may be appropriate. If the group requires intellectual stimulation, an activity that includes difficult questions might be in order.
Below are a few examples to get you started. You may also want to explore the work of the Cleveland (OH) Metropolitan School District, the Springfield (IL) Public Schools and the Oakland (CA) Unified School District who engaged in many best SEL practices.
Belonging (20 minutes)
1. Give a brief explanation of nonverbal behavior. Include examples of nonverbal
Behavior such as hand gestures (pointing, waving), facial gestures (raised
eyebrows; indicating yes, no; frowning; smiling).
2. Then explain that you will place a colored dot (or whatever shape or color you
Have available) on each person’s forehead. The different colors of the dots
represent the different groups that they are going to join. Also tell them they
cannot look at their own dot or tell someone else what color dot they have.
The rules of the game are:
Students must use only non-verbal behavior to discover the color of their dot and to form a group with those who have dots of the same color.
3. The teacher begins the “no talking” time and goes around the room placing the
different colored dots on the foreheads. Do not let them see their own dots as
you place it on their foreheads. The teacher selects one student (try to avoid
choosing someone who is often excluded by others) to get the yellow dot.
10 students get a GREEN sticker
6 students get a BLUE sticker
2 students get a RED sticker
1 student gets a YELLOW sticker
4. The teacher then instructs the class to form groups using nonverbal behavior by
joining those with the same color dot. It will soon become apparent that the
student with the yellow dot is not a part of any group.
5. Once everyone has found the correct group, ask the student who has the yellow
sticker to explain his or her feelings about being left out of the groups. Then
involve the other students in the discussion on “how it feels to be excluded.”
“What can we do to include others?” “Do new students feel this way?” Discuss
the non-verbal behavior that students used to let others know that they were
included or excluded in their group.
Snowball Fight (10 minutes)
1. Place a question on the board for students to answer. Instructor can decide if
students will write their names on the paper or not. After all students have
responded to the question, students will crumple their paper and throw it across
the room. Allow students to throw as long as you like. After throwing, students
should grab any paper they find on the ground and read it. Class discusses what
commonalities and differences between the answers.
Mindfulness / 1-5 Check-In (10 minutes)
1. Have students come to the meeting area 2. Begin with meditation, deep breathing, or another mindfulness strategy
3. Check in with students by asking them to rate their feelings on a scale of 1-5
using their fingers (5 being the most positive)
4. Give students an opportunity to share why they feel that way and also take note
of who may be in need of an individual check in/more support
Rock, Paper, Scissors, Cheer! (5 minutes)
1. Students should each find a beginning partner to play the game rock, paper,
2. The student who wins the round moves on to find another player while the
did not win becomes the student cheer section.
3. Each time a partnership plays rock, paper, scissors the winning partner moves on
and the rest of the team continues to cheer on the winner.
4. Play should continue until half of the room is cheering behind one student and
half is cheering behind the other.
Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2001). Early teacher–child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72(2), 625-638.