Tag Archives: relationships

Using Ridiculous Rituals to Build Classroom Community

Original Hampter


Creating classroom culture is a skill and my teaching “neighbor” (our classrooms share a door) Jen Haisma is a master at it. Every year something weird just kind of happens in her ELA or social studies class and she runs with it! One year students started coloring sketches of shoes and pasting them everywhere. Another year each class hid a silly toy dog from the other hours and as students came into the room they would find it each day. 

Earlier this year a student was sharing a journal response in ELA that included a picture of a Hampter in it. Hampter refers to the internet meme from 2020. Jen responded that she didn’t understand how Hampter was still around and mentioned that she thought it was creepy. 

And that was all it took. Students in her 5th hour began to draw customized Hampters and hang them on the wall. Students from her other hours soon joined into the Hampter party. Pretty soon her classroom looked like this:

This past week Jen told me that she had to take them all down and hang up new ones because she was running out of wall space.

 “Apparently, my classes this year like to torment me,” Jen jokingly told me.


While this may seem like a silly story on the surface, two important things have happened. First, this has built a classroom community. Students continue to create new Hampters even weeks after this started. It is a fun, cohesive action that connects kids to Jen and to each other.  

If you are going to survive as a middle school teacher, you had better be willing to embrace a bit of craziness. Kids’ minds and bodies are going through so many changes as they start to transition from childhood to adulthood. They need educators to accept some goofiness from them. It creates an atmosphere of safety and belonging. And I am all about the power of creating classroom rituals. 

While drawing Hampters was seemingly a spontaneous action from the students, it is important to point out Jen’s role in this. She hung up the pictures. She feigned disgust at them. She was passively encouraging the drawings and loving every minute of it. Of course, she could have shut it down and said, “All right folks, it’s time to focus on ELA,” but she didn’t. Teachers can find unique moments like this to connect with their students and grow their classroom culture. 

I guarantee that these kids will remember Hampters when they think of Ms. Haisma for the rest of their life. 


Secondly, hidden in the silliness of these drawings are connections to Jen’s content. Naturally many of the Hampters are about things that students care about such as local sports teams.

But students are also connecting the Hampters to the content that they are learning in class. Jen said that students continue to write Hampter references in their journals. One girl includes them every day. Other students try to find sly ways to slide in Hampter mentions. 

Another connection to content is that some of the Hampters are themed on things learned in social studies. After listening to the Mongolian rock band Hu in class. This Hampter appeared:

It’s almost like Jen made a fun assignment for students to create their own Hampter for class. But she didn’t have to and making it required would ruin the point of it. This is better than homework because kids are choosing to draw and write about Hampters on their own. Sometimes teachers just need to give students space and be willing to laugh a lot.

The best thing about silly rituals is that they can start at any time of the year. What unique rituals do you have with your students this year? 

Be on the lookout for opportunities to create new ones this week and watch how it improves your classroom climate. 

Learn with me!

Would you like to explore more deeply the impact of SEL to transform students? Check out our book below for tons of practical ways that can be immediately implemented in any classroom.

Pulse of PBL

The ideal way to improve SEL skills for students is to start with the adults. Districts should provide PD where teachers explore their own SEL strengths and weaknesses, modeling strategies that can be used in the core classroom.

Are you interested in professional development for your school on how to integrate SEL? Of course, I highly recommend PBL as the ideal framework to use. I would love to have a conversation on how I can help. I am now scheduling workshops and book studies for spring and summer. Check out my workshop page or drop me an email at mikejkaechele@gmail.com. I would love to chat and co-plan meaningful PD for the educators at your school.

Student Relationship “Data”

I was inspired by this tweet to come up with an easy system for teachers to keep track of what they know about students. As I have written, this fall everyone teaching remotely is correctly focused on developing relationships with students across the distance.

Why Relationship “Data”

Whether teaching remotely or in person, relationships are at the heart of teaching. The purpose of using a chart to track student data is to help you connect with all kids. There are several important ways to use it to inform your instruction.

  • PBL planning: design projects that match your students’ passions and needs. You can tailor the final products and audiences to things that your students are interested in and excited about.
  • Creating groups: intentionally group students by skillsets. This is especially important when a final product includes technology or art. Make sure every group has at least one person strong in that area.
  • Personalized Projects: for students who are not invested in school find ways to “hook” them by connecting the project to specific areas in their chart. I have even designed an entire project around one student who was particularly disengaged.
  • Introverts: the chart can help ensure that quiet students do not fall through the cracks and that you notice and talk with them daily. If a student has many empty boxes prioritize conversations with them to get to know them better.

Free Forms

There are two versions of the forms: 2 pages in Google Docs or Google Sheets. When you sign up for my weekly blogposts you will receive access to both versions that you can edit as you wish for your classroom.

How to edit

These forms cover lots of categories, some of which may not apply to you and your students. For example, “work” is a category for high school students who have jobs and “favorite animal” may be more appropriate for elementary (although I have had high school students whose favorite animal was very important to them). So feel free to delete or change the headings of any column to make it work for your classroom community.

You can delete a column by right clicking on it and a menu will pop up to delete (or add a column if you wish).

The GDoc table version works best online as the size of the boxes adjust to the text as you type. If you wish for a printed version, you can hit enter inside of cells to make them larger or change their default size in Google Sheets.

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.