Building a classroom community sometimes becomes the last priority, with many items on a teacher’s daily to-do list.
Teachers are worried about lesson plans, helping students get ready for standardized tests, meeting benchmarks, fulfilling administrative duties, maintaining discipline, and more. It can be overwhelming to devote extra time to community-building activities.
However, as educators know, building classroom community is one of the most effective ways to give students ownership over their own classroom.
By making time for community-building, educators often find that discipline becomes less of an issue, and students who might have fallen behind are encouraged to apply themselves to match the efforts of their peers.
Below are five strategies educators can use for building community in the classroom. Primarily, these strategies work for any age group.
1. Hold Weekly Class Meetings
A simple yet effective way to build classroom community is to hold meetings with your class once a week. These meetings don’t need to be long; they can simply provide a way for students and educators to touch base on how everyone is doing.
If you’ve established very clear class rules, the meeting can be utilized to discuss how well those rules are being followed. Teachers can give three to five students a chance to ask a specific classroom-related question or share a highlight of the week.
In order to have the meetings run smoother, teachers should encourage students to save very specific course-related questions for one-on-one time. If prepared for beforehand, these meetings can be a way for your class to discuss the goals they have, and to examine alongside the students how the classroom is running to help them meet those goals.
The content of the meetings will depend on the age group of the students in your classroom, but if students know these meetings are coming up, they have a small event they can look forward to beyond the regular curriculum. They will also feel that they have ownership of the classroom and build camaraderie with their classmates.
2. Focus on Gratitude
A focus on gratitude is the perfect way for anyone to recenter and feel more connected to community, but gratitude can be an easy and fun way to build community in the classroom.
Teachers can orient this community-building strategy in various ways. For example, especially for younger students, teachers can make a color-coded gratitude list with items like “Name one person you are grateful for and why” that corresponds with straws or pieces of paper. Students choose a straw or piece of paper and finds the list item that matches. Then, students find a partner with the same color and share their answers to the question or prompt.
For students of all ages, teachers can ask each student to create a gratitude journal and write five items in the journal at the start of each class. Teachers can then ask a few students each class, either at the beginning or the end, to share what’s on their list. This will help other students get to know each other and also help teachers get to know their students and what matters most to them.
3. Work Together Toward a Shared Goal
Educators are well aware that many students respond well to rewards, like pizza parties or extra time at recess, or even time during class to play games.
An impactful way to keep the class connected and to also give students an incentive to behave, is to create a shared goal for the course based on performance or behavior and then have a reward listed once students reach that shared goal.
Teachers can keep track of a students’ progress toward this goal by using a board at the front of the class, a diagram, or another visual cue so students can see how far they’ve come toward the goal. This incentive will motivate the students to meet their goal and encourage them to work together to earn the reward they want to enjoy as a class.
4. Give Daily Shout-Outs or Compliments
A simple and quick way to build community in the classroom is to create a shout-out or compliment ritual. When students hear that they are doing well, they are more likely to continue this behavior in order to receive further shout-outs or compliments.
Teachers can organize a compliment circle regularly, in which each student gives their fellow student a compliment. Teachers can also choose to give a shout-out to one student at the end of each class, or select a few students to give shout-outs to other students. This allows for double the students to give and/or receive shout-outs.
This ritual takes very little time but it allows students the opportunity to recognize one another for their hard and diligent work, and it also provides teachers the opportunity to showcase positive examples for the rest of the class.
A compliment truly can make someone’s day!
5. Let Students Have a Voice
Finally, a fun and illuminating strategy for classroom community-building is to give students a voice. Teachers can do this through comment cards, weekly notes to the teacher, or classroom forums.
For example, teachers might pass out cards to students every so often with a prompt like, “One thing I wish my teacher knew…” with blank lines for students to fill out the rest.
Students then have a chance to share with their teacher, and teachers have the opportunity to learn more about their students. This will inevitably build community.
Teachers might also choose to have students write fun facts about themselves on note cards and pass them around. Then other students have to guess who the card is about.
Various games give students a voice in the classroom and help them get to know each other. Even if teachers can only do an activity like this once a week or once a month, they will surely see the positive effects on the relationships of the overall classroom community.
Each of these exercises, when combined, are meant to serve a greater purpose: creating a wholesome environment for you and your students. The most important part of these exercises is the connection you and your students can find with one another. Forming a cohesive unit will open up students to new ways of thinking and allow for more generosity and understanding.