Remember the song “We Are Family” by the Pointer Sisters? That has become the mantra for my class as we journey through the school year together, building a learning community as we go. A learning community is a group of students with a common purpose and shared values and goals. Building a classroom community truly enriches the students’ learning experience, and helps them learn valuable life skills they will be able to use and benefit from for the rest of their lives. Here are four thoughts to consider as you build your own classroom community this year!
- Research community building games, and help students get acquainted through these activities at the beginning of the year. As time permits, challenge students with various community building tasks related to the standards you are teaching throughout the school year. Learning to work together on a team successfully is a life skill that has many rewards.
- Stress to students that we are a family, we are all in this together, and that learning never stops! Just like the armed forces – leave no man behind! Say to students weekly or even daily, “The most important things we do in this learning community are learn and help each other be successful. Any behavior that takes away from learning is unacceptable and has no place here.” Repeated reminders of this ideology will encourage students to take ownership of this belief statement.
- Let your students know that their contributions to the lessons and the learning community are valuable and appreciated. Pull a student aside once a day, get on their level, and look them in the eye. Tell them sincerely that you are proud of them and what they have accomplished, how much they have improved, how much you appreciate the support he or she gives you and his or her classmates, and how glad you are that he or she is in your class. The return on this minute-long conversation is invaluable!
- When you see that a student is upset, pull them to the side, and ask them how they are feeling on a scale of 1–10, 10 being the best. Ask them what you can do for them to help them get to a 10. Yes, this takes time, so don’t do this in the middle of a lesson… use your judgment about the best time to ask. Not only will you be addressing the students’ needs directly, which helps them feel an important and respected part of your community, but you are modeling valuable empathy and problem solving skills that they will undoubtedly need to utilize as they mature.
- Encourage a culture of respect. Encourage students to be sympathetic and supportive. Reward positive behavior such as this through your behavior system, or with positive ClassDojo points! Better yet, customize these behaviors in ClassDojo for your classroom, and weight them heavier than other positive behaviors. You will be amazed at the culture change in your community! When students support and respect each other while learning together within a community, continuous improvement becomes an embedded value.
Building a learning community in your classroom definitely takes more time and effort. The powerful qualities ingrained in its philosophy shape and enhance learning invaluably. Students will undoubtedly benefit from such a rich educational experience, and your love of educating children will grow stronger, guaranteed!