Classroom jobs promote student development and community

Part 2

By Cynthia R. Savo and Catherine Romaine Henderson

(Editors' note: Before the start of the 2012-13 school year, the Comer Core teams in Hartsville participated in Comer 102 professional development workshops that asked educators to examine the activities that take place during the course of a school day and how to make them more developmentally supportive. In the February 2014 issue of the Hartsville Comer Connection, part 1 of this two-part series focused on Nancy Williamson and Lana Faile's 5K classroom at Southside Early Childhood Center. The focus of part 2 is on classroom and school jobs for fourth and fifth grade students at Thornwell School for the Arts.)

At the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, fourth grade teacher Michelle Brand assigned jobs to all of the students in her homeroom. This was a change from what she had done the year before when only some students had classroom jobs. "I realized that the students without jobs felt left out. I thought that if I gave all of them jobs every student would feel equally important," she explains. "I think that when the children have more responsibilities, they take better care of our classroom, and it makes them more responsible for their chores/jobs in the real world."

In the morning Brand's students work together to get the classroom ready for the school day. Preparing for breakfast is job one. Some students go down to the cafeteria to pick up the food and drinks, others take down the chairs down and wipe off the tables. Others turn on the lamps around the room and sharpen pencils. When the food arrives, they are ready to eat breakfast together then clean up afterwards.

Brand sees the "jobs for all" strategy as a win-win for her students and herself. "Having jobs makes students feel important and gives them ownership of their learning environment," she says. They don't argue or fuss over who is doing what. Because they receive incentives for doing a good job instills a sense of pride and responsibility."

And, Brand adds, because the jobs rotate throughout the year, everyone has an opportunity to contribute to a positive and collaborative learning environment.

As for herself, Brand says that having students perform simple tasks in the classroom gives her more time to focus on other things that only she can do.

Student Jobs in a Developmentally Supportive School

It takes a coordinated effort to start off each school day smoothly. Principal Julie Mahn says, "We are a working machine in the morning" due in large part to the effort of a group of fifth grade students. "They help first and second grade teachers by cleaning the tables and setting up for breakfast, preparing the room, and assisting children with the computers. They are excellent."

Students also get ice for the health room, some are assigned to empty the recycling bins, others raise the flag. "I have several principal's helpers," says Mahn. "I leave work on the table and a to do list, and they get it done. The workers wear tags and complete time sheets. They get paid $2 every two weeks. I enjoy watching them learn how to be responsible and they know we depend on them."

"Developmentally fourth and fifth grad boys and girls work well together and like to perform adult tasks," says Dr. Camille Cooper. "Socially they worry about who's 'in' and who's 'out,' so providing everyone with an opportunity to contribute to their classroom learning environment and the school is developmentally supportive. It is important for all the adults in their lives to effectively channel the restless, high energy of this developmental period into constructive community service that gives them a role and earns them the adult recognition they seek."