What are Classroom Communities?
Classroom communities are everywhere! Literally everywhere, but not all classroom communities are the same, and so, for the purpose of this blog, I will start by defining what I mean when I am referring to a classroom community.
IMHO a healthy classroom community is a group of adults and children who come together to learn and grow. With adult guidance, they have decided together how they will treat each other, and within that decision each individual has roles.
In this community, there is an expectation that everyone will feel a sense of kinship or relationship with everyone else in the class. Of course, degrees of connection will be different, but everyone is expected to interact with everyone else in a respectful, kind, caring and helpful way. Every voice matters, and everyone helps each other out to the best of their ability.
A healthy classroom community is a transformative place where everyone feels physically and emotionally safe.
Healthy Classroom Communities
Standing in the middle of the classroom I looked around. It was noisy, messy, and busy as most healthy classroom communities are.
This organized chaos was my favourite way to teach, and I knew it was only possible because we, had intentionally built healthy and appropriate boundaries all year long.
We were making kelp, so that we could hang it from the ceiling to create a seal garden as a part of our study of other cultures. Everyone had been given instructions and assigned a random partner. Of course, in my class, everyone still preferred to work with their bestie, but they kindly worked with everyone. 🥰
Only once had I ever seen a student directly show disappointment at the random partner that had been assigned. The child who registered negative feelings was new to our class, and he only did it that one time.
He looked around the classroom, and he realized that this was not the way our class worked. No one had said anything, but he could just tell he was wrong.
He had been bullied at his prior school, and when he realized he was safe he blossomed. Now he knew what a healthy and safe community looked like.
He became safe to work with too.
1) Choose Strategies for Building Classroom Community
IMHO, building classroom community is one of the best, if not the actual best, part of teaching. I mean, I have great fun teaching various subjects, but I love to facilitate student collaboration and interactions.
There are a few basics to establishing a vibrant classroom community.
- It starts with you! – Create a warm and welcoming environment. Greet them, get to know them each, and listen with interest to what they are excited to share with you.
- Building classroom expectations together, and referring back to it.
- Give them time to interact with each other. My kiddos had both class time and free time every single day where they were interacting with each other.
- Get them collaborating. This doesn’t have to be big projects, and it doesn’t have to be about academics. A broom and dustpan require collaboration.
- Give them a chance to be heard. My kiddos once told me that they preferred it when I put up the shape of the day at carpet time. No problem! One less job for me to remember after school!
- Embrace diversity by finding a way to celebrate everyone’s differences.
- Promote leadership. Help them to help each other. Everyone has something to offer. This could be as simple as being in charge of organizing chair stacking.
- Incorporate peer support where they can work together, learn from each other, and learn to be helped by others.
2) Decide Upon Activities to Build Classroom Community
There are so many great activities for building a classroom community, but, of course, I have my favourites. The following are just a few, they are all class favourites, and most of them happened every day or multiple times a week.
- Greeting my students at the door.
- Laps – every morning they could run, walk, skip or twirl their way around the school as many times as they wanted to before I completed 2 laps. Great for the kiddos who were still asleep or those with ADHD.
- Random partner cards
- Sight word games,.
- Math games
- Active games
- Group Discussions
- Socials and Science hands-on activities
- Free reading time I had a massive classroom library that they loved during free time.
- STEM kits for free-time use
- Games for free-time use
- STAR of the Week
- Small group discussions
- Prayer requests and prayer
- Scripture reading
- SEL stories and discussion
As you can see, classroom community-building activities are easily incorporated into the schedule and content. I recognize the concern over transitioning in many classes, but as you practice, the transitioning improves.
3) How to Build Classroom Community Through Implementation
I know that teachers worry about transitions. I will address that by saying to you that there are research-based ways to manage the classroom to create success.
Once you have the strategies and classroom community activities, you need the steps to implementation. Here are my nine steps for managing transitions and building a classroom community:
- Classroom expectations that have been developed together, posted, reviewed, taught, connected to, celebrated, and referred back to.
- Instruction – make sure the students know what the activity requires.
- Be organized – nothing creates chaos like free time waiting for the teacher.
- Choices – Let students know that at the first sign of off-task behaviour, you will understand that they are making the choice to do the alternate activity. Then carry through.
- Carry through quietly, with a smile, love and grace.
- While the group is working be present, listen in, and verbally affirm with specific feedback.
- When they are all cleaned up tell them how well they did.
- Follow up with a much quieter and more focused activity. They will need it. Developmentally they may no longer be able to make appropriate choices in a more dysregulated environment.
- When you try again the next day, tell them how much better they did.
Classroom Communities as Your Secret to Success
I am not going to say that by building your classroom community there will never be any behaviour problems ever again. This just isn’t true.
However, I am going to say that almost every child is likely to behave better when they feel safe and secure. The truth is that classroom community, and the well-regulated hum of positive behaviour that it supports, means that while every other child is actively engaged and learning you will have more freedom to address the little rascal who is off task.
Maybe that little rascal 😇needs you to do that activity one-on-one together, or maybe they need your support at their small group, and now you have the ability to offer it to them while everyone else is engaged.
Building classroom communities made everything possible for the classroom that I envisaged. The community that was created allowed me to become the teacher I had dreamt of being. I pray it does the same thing for you.