Building a Cohesive Learning Community
A classroom where each person feels important, respected, and accountable provides the foundation for successful learning.
By Jill Clark
Establishing a classroom environment that runs efficiently and promotes learning takes time, effort, consistency, and planning. However, the tremendous social and academic benefits are well worth it! It's not simply about the physical appearance of your classroom, but it's also about each individual feeling valued, respected, and comfortable enough to form strong relationships. Many students need to be taught how to act and treat others. Often, they have only been told how not to act toward other people. Rather than spending your year hoping that your pupils will thrive, spare your sanity and build character by carefully crafting your expectations so that they meet the social and academic needs of each learner. The goal is a successful learning community where children feel important. Create an atmosphere where they, as individuals, feel vital to the group as a whole.
Celebrate the Individual
Each child comes to your class with diverse experiences and cultural backgrounds. Celebrate these differences in your classroom. Everyone should know that his individuality makes him a valuable member of the community. When a student feels a sense of belonging, he will be more comfortable and more invested in what he is learning in school.
Celebrating the unique differences in each pupil can be achieved in a variety of ways. You can create an "I Am Important" bulletin board which showcases each child. This space can be used to show artwork that represents his interests, display class work he is proud of, hang family photos, etc. In my classroom, I give learners the creative control of their space. I let them decide what they feel is important to showcase. This makes for a very interesting, ever-changing display. Also, I ask families to supply pictures, artifacts, or to share stories representing their ancestry. This might be as simple as including a poem or folk tale from someone's country of origin.
Something I do at the beginning of each year is a "Where I Come From" world map. Pupils use a pushpin to identify the country from which their family originated. Then, during sharing time, they can explain or share something about their ancestry. In the past, students have brought in photo albums, food, videos, clothing, books, dolls, or toys unique to their culture. Not only does this activity give others the opportunity to learn and appreciate diversity, it builds pride and confidence in the individual doing the sharing.
Build a Respectful Community
The way pupils interact with each other, with you the teacher, and with the classroom space itself, sets the stage for the success of the community. It is important for children to understand that because each individual in the group is valuable, each person deserves respect. When mutual respect exists in the classroom, behavior issues are minimized while positive interactions and relationships flourish.
Respect, or the idea that every person deserves the right to be treated well, can be an abstract concept for some to grasp. It is a word that is often used, but not always fully explained. If you want your kids to show respect, they need to know what it looks like and how to practice it. How does one act respectful toward others? Toward the classroom? Toward themselves? Why is it important? Class discussions, concrete examples, and modeling of respect will help foster understanding.
"Actions speak louder than words" is a motto we, as teachers, must remember. Pupils will behave the
way they see others around them acting, for better or for worse. Consistently model the behavior you want to see from them. As the authority in your classroom, rather than simply telling children what you expect of them, show them!
Establish Rules, Routines, and Procedures
Transitioning into a new classroom, with a new teacher and unfamiliar surroundings can be challenging for even the most well-adjusted child. As a means of lowering anxiety and making the transition as smooth as possible, implement and practice rules, routines, and procedures from the first day of school. The predictability and solid understanding of expectations will help minimize disruptions and maximize instructional time.
Involve students in the creation of class rules. To introduce this activity, I provide my "3 Respect Rules" :
- Respect the teachers in charge
- Respect yourself and your classmates
- Respect the space around you.
I spend a significant amount of time discussing and explaining my expectations. Next, I have a brainstorming session and the class suggests and votes on the rules they feel are important to the success of the group as a whole. After a set of rules is agreed upon, I create a poster to display. Everyone signs the poster to show their commitment to upholding the expectations of behavior. When pupils are invested in the process, they are more likely to follow the rules. The public display of the rules also gives you something concrete to reference should a behavior issue arise.
Routines and Procedures
Make your day as predictable as possible. When everyone knows what to expect, valuable time is saved throughout the year. The first few weeks of school should be dedicated to teaching routines and procedures for everything (and I mean everything).
- How should pupils enter the classroom?
- Where will they sit?
- What should they do when they arrive at the room?
- When and how will they ask to use the restroom?
- Where will they turn in homework or pick up important papers?
- How do they line up for lunch?
- Where and how are worksheets or materials passed out?
- What is the clean-up procedure?
- How do they prepare for exiting the classroom for the day?
- What are the quiet signals and when pupils hear/see them, what should they do?
Be explicit and repeatedly model the way you intend each routine and procedure to be carried out. Although it takes thought and planning, your classroom community will run like a well-oiled machine if you dedicate the time and effort to practicing. Our aim as teachers is to help our learners master academic concepts while simultaneously molding them into caring and kind citizens. Creating and maintaining a nurturing community of learners will facilitate growth, both academically and socially!
Pupils explore how positive actions toward one another create a classroom community. Concepts like trust, sharing, and philanthropy are addressed. This is geared towards grades K-2.
Develop a sense of community through group activities and positive reinforcement. In this series of activities, appropriate for grades 1-8, learners participate in a variety of community-building activities including goal setting and group decision making. The aim is to build a safe and secure learning environment.
Learners will look at what makes a successful classroom community through discussions and art activities. They will debate what they want their classroom community to be like and how a supportive environment can be achieved.