Every student you have wants to feel like he or she belongs in your classroom. However, this requires time, commitment, effort, and planning on your part.
Strong student communities are characterized by the fact that all students feel comfortable, are well-behaved and are accepted. In a classroom with a strong sense of community, students feel safe and have a sense of belonging. Students feel like they can count on each other for support—academically and socially—regardless of the situation.
It is critical that all students develop trusting and enriching relationships with each other. Creating a strong sense of student community in the class is crucial for students’ well-being, learning, and personal development—both inside and outside of school. Research shows that students who attend schools with a high sense of student community are more driven and willing to take risks academically. Strong student communities also help to decrease bullying and classroom disruptions.
Students like to know what to expect when they walk into the classroom. They require structure and guidance. Take time in your week to teach students how to develop and build positive relationships with peers.
- Use writing prompts to explore the idea of a community. Have students write about what community is and what it is not. Use their answers to help write classroom agreements about what it means to be a positive and productive member of the classroom community.
- Have a fun introduction activity and/or celebration routine that you do every time you switch collaborative groups. Have students high-five and say “I can’t wait to work with this group”.
- To build structure and promote an environment of high expectations, have a routine for when the bell rings. These could be activities such as a writing prompt, a mindful activity, or a problem to be solved on the board.
Classroom Ideas and Activities
- Create a classroom agreement, constitution, or contract at the beginning of the school year. Students need to know that you have structure and rules regarding respect, trust, and safety. Students will feel a sense of community if they help make these rules.
- Play games that help foster connections and similarities between students, such as The North Wind Blows or Take a Stand Icebreaker. Both activities can be found online.
- Read “How Full is Your Bucket” by Tom Rath. Pick a day of the week to fill each other’s buckets with gratitude and compliments.
Classroom Environment and Set Up
- Post student/teacher agreements clearly in the classroom
- Have a classroom “mascot” that is unique to your class. Let the class pick the mascot. It could be a stuffed animal, statue, soccer ball, or any other object.
- Create a collaborative art project that everyone participates in and that you can post in the classroom. One idea is to create a giant puzzle for which every student creates one of the pieces.
Building a collaborative, healthy classroom will take time. Some students will struggle with collaborative groups and joining activities. Work with them privately on what they can do to participate. Take baby steps with them. Learn about the introverted students and how to support them in an extroverted classroom. Most importantly, do not give up. With time, commitment, and effort, a classroom community will slowly take shape.