Building your Classroom Community
How to Build a Strong Classroom Community
For many of us, September marks the beginning of a new school year. During these next few weeks we will be building the framework that will set the pace for the rest of the year.
One of the most effective ways we can do that is to create a strong classroom community. Students who feel like part of a community are more excited to come to school, enthusiastic about learning, helpful, and accepting of others.
Creating a strong classroom community happens in ways that are both subtle and overt, but always intentional. Here are some of the best ways that we have discovered to build a strong community of learners.
8 Ways to Build a Strong Classroom Community
1. Help your students feel safe! If students are constantly worrying about their own safety, both physically or emotionally, they are unlikely to be successful learners or community members. There are many things you can do to make your students feel safe, some more obvious than others. Modeling compassionate communication, allowing for vulnerability (both your own and students’), and being intolerant of bullying are some of the ways that you can help students feel safe. Check out our online course to get some practical advice on combating bullying.
2. Arrange your classroom in an effective way! Desks that are all pointed towards the front of the room send a clear message that the teacher is the primary decision maker. Arranging desks in semi-circles or small pods allows for more group discussions and community building.
Classroom walls should be a place to display students’ work and projects, not teacher-created material or posters. Consider allowing the students to coordinate to make a “Classroom Constitution” which can be hung up and referred to during the year.
Although it may seem contradictory, quiet corners can also be useful tools in making the classroom feel more like a community. Sometimes the best way to foster students to engage with the rest of the class is to give them the freedom and space to take a few moments alone. This is especially true for introverted students. Plants and class pets are also useful in making all students feel connected.
Classroom Architect provides a helpful website to experiment with different classroom layouts.
3. Take a big step back! Always being the one in control may make for more orderly days, but it allows little room for community building. Group work, student-led discussions, and Project Based Learning are all excellent ways to build community. The BIE website is particularly helpful for learning about Project Based Learning.
An important component of student-led projects is grouping. When left to their own devices, kids will often revert back to familiar groups, which doesn’t leave much room for social growth and can often result in certain kids being left out. Try some new ways to group your kids. One fun way is to have each student anonymously write down a favorite book, hobby, or dream travel destination, and then put them in the group with kids with similar answers. They might be surprised by who has similar interests!
4. Give opportunities for silliness! Just as struggling to complete a class project together builds community, so too does laughing over a shared experience. If humor is your thing, don’t be afraid to let the kids see that side of you. Tell jokes, have playful conversations, and encourage your students to do the same. If you are a more serious person, integrating student-created skits or songs into your curriculum will invite humor into your classroom in a natural way.
5. Celebrate each child’s unique spirit! Being a community does not mean that everyone should feel pressure to be the same. Quite the contrary. A true community allows each member to be appreciated for the unique gifts that he or she contributes. Allowing your students to use multiple ways to present their knowledge shines a light on all the amazing differences and talents that they possess.
Our Universal Design for Learning course will show you how to re-design your lessons to be accessible and showcase the strengths of all your students.
6. Hold them responsible! An important part of community is understanding how instrumental each member is to the group’s success. Giving students classroom jobs gives them ownership and helps them feel like a vital part of the community.
7. Build trust between all community members! Trust is an important component in every relationship. Since a community is, by nature, an interconnected web of relationships, a great deal of trust needs to be built in to allow things to run smoothly. The most effective way to earn your students’ trust is to be consistent in your words and actions. Not only does this help your students to trust you, but it also models the behavior that you expect from them.
Another important way to build trust is to ensure your students that you expect the best from them. Instead of focusing on a lot of minor details in classroom conduct, assure your students that you have faith in their abilities and good judgement. You will be surprised by how often they rise to the occasion!
Trust-building activities can be a light-hearted way to help build trust between your students. Check out Teampedia for some fun team building activities.
8. Respect and celebrate emotions! Intellect is only one component of a person. When you acknowledge and honor the other aspects of what makes them human, students feel more comfortable communicating and taking risks.
Group work can be difficult. With a lot of personalities involved, emotions often run high. Let students know that it is okay to feel frustrated or sad or even angry. Talk to them about ways to use those emotions in a productive manner and keep the classroom community a positive, safe place.
Beyond the Classroom…
Teaching kids what an effective, productive community looks like is one of your most important jobs as a teacher. The lessons they learn in your classroom will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
The Teacher’s Academy is proud to provide Professional Development Courses to teachers from all across the country. We offer quality, affordable classes that you can take right from your home computer. Check out our catalog to find a course that will help you make this year the best one yet!