At the end of every school year, there is a post that circulates around social media about how difficult it can be for teachers to say goodbye to the “little family” that is their class. Maybe some years that’s true, and maybe some years it isn’t. But whether or not a particular class is the best ever or the most challenging, there is something to be said for not saying goodbye—at least not after just one year. That’s because research shows that looping students back to the same teacher the next year can produce significant benefits.
Dynamic student/teacher relationships have a positive impact on students’ academic achievement and socioemotional development. In looped classrooms, strong student-teacher bonds are common—which might be why this practice produces better attendance, fewer behavior problems, and decreased suspensions. While there’s no guarantee that more than one year in the same class will benefit every student in the same way or to the same degree, there are several reasons for looping’s potential to positively impact students.
1. It takes time for some students to get comfortable with a teacher.
There are a lot of kids who are ready to tell you their entire life story (with subplots) on day one. These kids usually want to answer questions, read out loud in front of the class, and take the lead in every game and activity.
But most teachers have also had students who are much tougher shells to crack. Maybe they have experienced trauma. Maybe they are naturally shy. Or maybe they just need a little time to open up. These kids are harder to get to know, and they tend to hang back in a group. Whatever the reason, it feels like such a shame when a quiet or reticent student finally decides she can be herself when there are only a few weeks left of school. A looped classroom can give teachers and kids the time they need to get to know one another and form the longer-lasting, dynamic relationships necessary to enhance achievement.
2. Looping gives teachers time to figure out what works for their class and individual students.
In the same way that getting to know some students can take time, so does figuring out the best way to handle a specific class or child. Even experienced teachers sometimes struggle with how to deal with a particularly chatty class or a particularly uncooperative kid. What worked for one class or one kid last year might not work this year. Looping means teachers have more time to develop classroom management strategies geared toward the needs of a particular group. And once they’ve cracked the code, the kids receive the benefit of those strategies longer. This can lead to better habits and behavior long-term.
3. In a looped classroom rules and expectations are firmly established.
It takes time to establish rules and expectations for a new school year, but in their second year with the same teacher, students move seamlessly from one grade to the next without having to relearn (and retest) their boundaries. And whether they like it or not, kids thrive under well-established, consistent expectations. Teachers also know what to expect from day one, and they face their second year with their class better equipped to head off and handle behavior problems.
4. Looping allows teachers to build stronger relationships with families.
This isn’t simply a matter of having more time to build those relationships. Parents who realize a teacher will be working with their child for two years or more, are often more likely to invest in getting to know that teacher and building a good rapport. A good working relationship with parents is extremely helpful with everything from dealing with behavior issues to looking for volunteers for a field trip. Of course, most teachers find the idea of getting “stuck” with challenging parents for more than a year unappealing. But as with a challenging child, looping can afford teachers more opportunities to find the best way to work with difficult parents—which will help ensure the success of the child.
5. In a looped classroom, teachers can make connections and extend learning more easily.
One of the things I loved most about having a looped class was being able to say things like, “Remember last year when we talked about_____? Well, this author is doing something similar.” Or “Last year we worked on _____, so I know you are ready to try _____.” I also knew where my students needed more help. Maybe there were concepts we didn’t cover the year before or that they still hadn’t mastered by the end of the year. Working with my students a second year meant knowing what their learning gaps were and addressing them in the context of our new learning. That’s a game-changer.
Working with kids for two (even three) years in a row was a very positive experience for me. I loved watching them grow and mature academically and personally. I enjoyed the strong bonds we developed. And I felt more confident in my teaching and their learning. Of course, another benefit of looping is that it has to potential to effect positive change without the need for expensive training, pricey consulting firms, new curriculum, or even new hires. It’s simply a matter of scheduling—and getting teachers and families on board with this powerful practice.