Building Community in the Classroom – What It Is & Ideas for How to Do It

When you think of “community,” what comes to mind?

Perhaps you think of a group living in a specific geographical location; religious groups or organizations; racial or cultural groups; neighborhoods; or activist groups.

Essentially, communities provide a sense of belonging and personal relatedness, as we all need to feel a sense of mattering. In relation to this, humans are social beings. This means we all yearn for close relationships and friendships, which communities often deliver.

In addition, communities offer a network of support and a place to share thoughts, experiences, and ideas, while being a source of inspiration and motivation. This encourages people to think bigger and achieve more.

Another great component of a community is the pool of resources available. Whether the passing of knowledge amongst its members; local classes, programs and services; local events; or the connections that evolve, resources are one of the major assets of any community.

While there are many other facets of societal communities, let’s focus on a smaller subculture – schools. Often overlooked or not necessarily described as a “community” by the larger population, schools are extremely important to the growth of any society. Therefore building community in the classroom should be a top priority for educators.

What is a classroom community, you may ask.

Similar to communities outside of the school, a classroom community serves as an empowered learning environment where scholars feel a sense of value, belonging, and connectedness to their peers, as well as their educators. In essence, building a sense of community in the classroom fosters and promotes the building of strong ties, positive social skills, and academic achievements (often displayed via student portfolios).

The classroom is a major community for each and every scholar, as it presents a unique opportunity for them to have some regulation over their worlds. By creating a learning community in the classroom, scholars become an active participant in their immediate learning spaces. They learn to trust one another; are empowered to contribute to boost the success of the group; and are willing to collaborate and negotiate.

While there are several, some of the benefits of building community in the classroom are:

  • A sense of unity in the classroom is cultivated
  • Improves the scholar-educator relationship
  • Promotes scholars’ engagement in school
  • Resiliency is developed
  • An anti-bullying environment is promoted
  • Collaborative learning is encouraged
  • Scholars develop better communication and conflict resolution skills
  • Scholars become more compassionate, helpful, and tolerant of others
  • Supplementary to the aforementioned benefits, creating a classroom community is one of the most efficient and effective classroom management strategies. As students begin to bond and act as a cohesive group, misbehaviors, as well as disruptions are significantly reduced.

    That being said, you may be wondering how to create a sense of community in the classroom at your school.

    Building community in the classroom and instilling a “community” mindset amongst scholars is fun, and has never been easier. Aside from a lack of imagination, there are no limitations as to what educators can try. It all depends on classroom culture, the scholars, and finding what works best.

    Below are 5 ways to build community in the classroom:

    Establish a regular morning meeting, whether once per week or daily. Choose a theme and allow each student to participate. Example: Every Monday morning, tap into the concept of Think Pair Share and allow students to share one goal they wish to accomplish by the end of the week.

    Create a “We” jar. Assign a number of marbles to a specific task or goal. As scholars accomplish their goals, they earn marbles, which are placed in a jar. Once the jar is full, the scholars collectively choose their prize. Example: When the entire class submits a homework assignment, 2 marbles are earned. Or, when everyone earns a 70 or above on the daily quiz, 3 marbles are earned.

    Break bread with scholars. Periodically invite scholars to eat lunch with you. This can be in conjunction with something meaningful such as, the end of state testing or because everyone did well learning a specific unit.

    Use technology tools. ClassDojo, a communication app for the classroom, is a great tool to encourage community in the classroom. It allows teachers, parents, and scholars to connect and share videos, photos, and messages throughout the school day. ClassDojo supports the creation of a positive classroom culture, by allowing teachers to send messages of encouragement and acknowledgment, no matter the skill or value (i.e. being kind or acing the math quiz). It also gives scholars a voice through their platform portfolios – they’re able to display what they learn by uploading videos and photos to their profiles.

    Create a class flag. Allow every scholar to take part in the decision-making process of designing the class flag, from the initial draft to the final product.

    Creating and nurturing a classroom community requires planning, practice, and patience. It can be challenging at times, but exploring and implementing community building ideas for the classroom is well worth the effort.

    What do great sports coaches and teachers have in common?

    Delanie Walker, a tight-end in the NFL, recently responded to a question regarding his former San Francisco 49ers coach, Jim Harbaugh: “Why is Jim Harbaugh such a great football coach?

    He’s a player. He’s just like one of us. Jim Harbaugh is always in the locker room. He’s in the locker room playing basketball with us, he’s in there joking around. He eats with us. He doesn’t sit with the other coaches, he sits with the players. He just wants to be a player, he goes to practice and sometimes puts on the full gear, throws the ball, he conditions with us.

    I think that’s what makes everybody buy into his philosophy: he believes in it so much that he does it.

    On TV, you see him yelling, jumping around, going crazy. I think that’s his gametime self, but in general he’s always joking around, laughing, playing. You don’t see him at practice yelling and going crazy, he’s always kind, asks you how your day was.

    Having played basketball growing up (in fact, I still play regularly even though my recovery times are now weeks instead of days), my coach’s impact has been a lasting one and is undoubtedly weaved deeply into who I am. Sure, we learned basketball fundamentals, set plays, and ran a lot in practice (seriously, a lot). But, like Delanie with respect to his 49ers coach, that’s not what I remember — and certainly not what made my coach a great mentor for me and my teammates.

    Breaking down Delanie’s points a bit, three traits seem to be prominent in his response:

    • Values relationships
    • Leads by example
    • Encourages with positivity

    These are fantastic traits to find in a football coach, a basketball coach, a manager, a friend, a significant other, a CEO, or a teacher. The parallels between team athletics and the classroom environment are fascinating, and I look forward to diving into this space more deeply in future posts, hopefully with the help of teachers and coaches (if interested, email me: Manoj@ClassDojo.com).

    The ultimate goal for an NFL coach is to win games. There is no ambiguity in terms of results, as it all comes down to your season record, playoff record, and who takes home the Vince Lombardi Trophy. But the path to get there for an NFL coach is not just a well-conceived playbook and carefully crafted strategy for each game. It’s cultivating players like Delanie Walker to be constantly motivated, inspired, and always contributing to the system.

    Photo: Harbaugh surrounded by his players after NFC Championshp win in 2013, Credit: Reuters