Planning and taking specific actions to build a sense of community in the classroom can sometimes fall to the bottom of a teacher's LONG to-do list. Teachers are primarily concerned about effectively delivering their lesson plans, encouraging students, communicating with parents, assisting students with test prep, meeting benchmarks, fulfilling administrative duties, maintaining discipline, and a myriad of other responsibilities. As a result, finding extra time to plan, lead, and participate in community-building activities may feel overwhelming.
There is a strong positive payoff for making time for community-building. Classroom community-building strategies are some of the most effective ways to give students a sense of responsibility for their own learning and a healthy respect for the learning environment needed for ALL to learn. Teachers say that a strong classroom community helps with several key classroom characteristics:
- reduces discipline issues for educators
- encourages students to work together
- develops empathy and respect for others
- increases school satisfaction
Interested in learning more?
Here are some effective best practices teachers can use to build classroom community!
- Let Students Have a Voice.
Giving students a voice is a fun way to build classroom community. Teachers can accomplish this through comment cards, weekly teacher notes, or classroom forums. Teachers, for example, may distribute prompt cards to students regularly with phrases such as "One thing I wish my teacher knew..." and blank lines for students to fill out the rest. Students can then share their experiences with their teachers, and teachers can learn more about their students. Different activities give students a voice in the classroom and help them get to know one another. A great way to implement this technique: Have students write interesting facts about themselves, anonymously, on note cards and pass them around. Then the other students must guess who owns the card.
Even if teachers can only do an activity like this once a week or once a month, they will undoubtedly notice a positive impact on the overall "vibe" of the classroom community.
- Provide Positive Reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement aids in the development of positive classroom culture. Extrinsic motivators are external factors that encourage students to behave positively, such as allowing them five minutes of free time at the end of class or rewarding students with a pizza party when they do well on a test. Giving students public recognition is another effective extrinsic motivator. You can complement a student's behavior or academic performance in front of their classmates, or you can contact their parents and inform them of their child's positive behaviors. Praising a student in FRONT of parents is called “Super Praise”.
- Develop A Shared Conflict-Resolution Language.
This is an important part of developing a sense of community. The language used in the classroom is an excellent tool for observing the classroom climate. Teachers must use language that promotes feelings of safety, trust, and belonging. Language stems are effective for conflict resolution, especially when students apply them throughout the school day. This is a strategic accountability solution for the community in which everyone can speak to one another in a solution-oriented tone.
- Hold Weekly Class Meetings.
Meeting with your class weekly is a simple but effective way to build the sense of classroom community. These meetings should serve as a means for students and educators to check in on how everyone is doing. Suppose you've established very specific class rules. In that case, you can use the meeting to discuss how well those rules are being followed. Teachers can allow several students to ask a specific classroom-related question or share their week's highlights. These meetings can be a great way for your class to talk about their goals and how your classroom is set up to help them achieve those goals. The content of the meetings will vary depending on the age of the students in your classroom. As students look forward to the meeting days outside of the regular curriculum, they will enjoy a greater sense of ownership in the classroom and will form healthier bonds with their classmates.
- Use Surveys to Check In With Students.
Create surveys at the start of the school year to learn more about your students and determine how to provide more personalized instruction, determine their preferences for subject matter, learning style, and pace. Check-in with them at least monthly to demonstrate that you care. You don't need to ask them, "How am I doing as a teacher?" but rather, "Is what I'm doing working for you?" or "Are you enjoying learning?" The goal is to demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in THEIR education. You can distribute the survey to students, tally their responses, and then present the results to the class for discussion.
- Learn Together.
Students often regard their teacher as the all-knowing "hub" of knowledge. However, learners will be more engaged when they learn alongside their teachers. If you teach writing, share your own work with your students and solicit honest feedback. This provides a learning opportunity (students can hone their editorial skills) and a bonding opportunity (showing respect for them and their opinions). Whatever your topic, set aside some time, perhaps once a week, to learn something new together. This shared discovery ritual can be one of the most memorable and motivating learning experiences in a student's education.
When it comes to learning, the environment a teacher creates is extremely important. A strong sense of community in the classroom makes students feel more positive about learning. It has the potential to motivate and improve concentration, memory, attitude, and subsequently, attendance and engagement.
Classrooms should be places where students look forward to coming every day, places that are welcoming, safe, nurturing, and enjoyable.
Building a positive community will do just that!