September is the time of year when teachers are preparing their classrooms, planning inspiring lessons, and, perhaps most importantly, welcoming their new students. The first day of school typically involves plenty of “Getting to Know You” activities, helping students and teachers learn names and become more familiar with each other. But the 180-day journey has only just begun, and Day One should be the first of many days of Classroom Community Building.
A community is a setting made up of individuals who come together for a common purpose. Members should feel welcome, that they have a connection to others, and that they are valued. Schools and classrooms are where children spend a significant amount of time each week, and teachers have an opportunity to help their students make the most of that time together by developing a classroom community each day.
The benefits students realize from being a member of their classroom community are plentiful, and include increased trust to take academic risks, decreased behavior issues, and a feeling of ownership of their environment and learning.
Increased trust to take academic risks
When students’ basic needs, such as their sense of safety, are met, they are more likely to reach outside their comfort zone to take academic risks necessary to grow and learn. Whether it is volunteering to lead their group in an assigned project, challenging themselves to more rigorous tasks, or simply raising their hand to respond to a teacher’s question, students who feel safe in their classroom environment will be able to develop their skills and become more resilient.
Decreased behavior issues
Teachers who promote a culture of classroom community expose their students to lessons on positive values, respect and responsibility. Classroom rules, procedures, expectations and consequences are explicit, and do not include punishments. From that, students are able to take a message of collaboration and fostering positive relationships with their peers.
Feeling of ownership of their environment and learning
“Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” Rita Pierson was a brilliant educator, and an inspiring speaker. She recognized how important relationships are in teaching. When we take the time to get to know our students on a personal level, and are culturally responsive, we let them know that we genuinely care about them. This communicates our belief that our students have something valuable to offer, which in turn allows them to believe it, too.
Regardless of academic ability or behavioral needs, children are aware when they feel included in a classroom community. Once they feel a sense of belonging, they will invest in their learning rather than be passive recipients of information.
Fostering as sense of community in the classroom can be challenging, but it is well worth the effort. First week activities such as role playing to help students get a sense of what “respect” looks like, sounds like, and feels like, participating in a “Who’s in My Circle?” activity, and completing a “YOUnique Art” activity, are all fantastic ways to begin. But it shouldn’t end there. Nurturing your classroom community takes place on a daily basis. Implementing classroom jobs is a powerful way to let your students know that the environment belongs to them. Holding regular class meetings that are student-led is imperative to a strong classroom community. Most importantly, each of your interactions with your students is an opportunity to continue to grow their sense of trust and belonging.
Leave a legacy of relationships.
“How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think and who had a champion? Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connections, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”
(Pierson, R. (2013, May). Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/rita_pierson_every_kid_needs_a_champion)