Creating a Community in the Classroom
In many of my education classes, my professors emphasized the importance of creating a community in the classroom. Until starting school with the students this year, I’ve never really seen that in action. I visited classrooms where it’s clear that a community exists, but I didn’t know how that community was created.
A good classroom community promotes positive social behaviors that result in a more productive school day. When students work well together and commit to an established routine and set of expectations, you can devote more time to teaching instead of behavior management. Here are a few things I’ve noticed that have contributed to the creation of a classroom community.
Create a welcoming classroom
Students should feel like they are a part of the classroom the minute they walk through the door. Make them feel like they belong by putting their names around the room and on their desks. Contact parents ahead of time for photos that show what each student did over his or her summer vacation to display on a bulletin board. When students see themselves in the classroom, it helps them feel as though it belongs to them and not just to you.
Make sure any supplies that students will need throughout the year are in plain sight and identified early. Arrange desks in groups or other cooperative formations that help students feel connected. Decorate the room with warm colors and include pieces of yourself, like photos from home or a poster of your favorite sports team. The more students feel they are getting to know you, the more comfortable they’ll be.
Set up rules and goals as a group
Instead of presenting students with a list of rules, establish them together as a class. Students who help set rules will feel more responsible for following them. Make sure students understand the rules apply to you as well, and they’re put in place to ensure the classroom is a safe and comfortable learning environment for everyone.
My practicum teacher had all of her students identify three rules they thought they should follow as fifth-graders. Afterward, they discussed them as a class and identified themes and patterns. Based on these themes, they created classroom rules that were signed and posted by the students. Everyone in the room is accountable for the rules, and everyone had a part in developing them.
Establish a sense of routine and predictability
The more comfortable students feel in their classroom, the more successful they will be. The first few weeks of school are all about creating a routine and sense of predictability for students. Don’t expect students to know what they’re supposed to do. Review even the most mundane of tasks.
- How do students tell you they have to use the restroom?
- Where do students line up before leaving the classroom?
- What do students do when they sit down at their desks in the morning?
- What should students do when they have free time during the day?
Along with a daily schedule, post the day’s learning objectives on the board to give students an idea of what they’ll be focusing on academically. This can also help to activate any prior content knowledge before the lesson. If you anticipate any changes in the schedule, let students know well in advance and discuss what they can expect.
Help students take ownership
Like most teachers, my practicum teacher has collected a library of books that she makes available to her students throughout the year. During the second week of school, she had students sort books based on genres into different bins and label them. The books technically belong to the teacher, but the students are taking ownership of the library and are responsible for keeping it organized throughout the year.
Students should also feel responsible for some of the decisions made in class. If you find yourself with a free 15 minutes, give students a chance to vote among a few different activities. Ask students if they thought a lesson was effective and, if not, how they think it could be improved in the future. Teachers need to manage a classroom effectively, but students should feel as though they are in a democracy, not a dictatorship. This helps to establish a sense of responsibility for their own learning, which is essential for academic success.
Lisandra I. Flynn spent 2012 to 2014 working toward a master’s degree in elementary education while working full time as an editor. After seven years in publishing, she recently transitioned from corporate life to student teach fifth grade in an elementary school. Flynn shares her journey from the office to the classroom and offers insight and advice to those seeking their own career change.