I’m often asked, “Robin, you always talk about ‘community‘ in your classroom. How do you build it?”
Great question! I’ve found over the years that building classroom community requires lots of “front-end loading” on my part, and as instructors, we can make a HUGE difference in our students’ learning experiences just by choosing to tackle these steps (or not).
1. I always start with the end in mind. Thank you, Dr. Stephen Covey.
- What do I want to know about my students?
- What do I want my students to know about me?
- What do I want my students to know about each other?
- How will this information be useful, to my students and to me?
2. Determine how much time you will devote to building classroom community. One day? One week? More than a week? Ongoing? I write this into my lesson plans.
3. Choose methods and tools for collecting the information: surveys, assessments, open-ended responses, checklists, peer conversations in the classroom (live), online forums/threads, posts in an LMS (Learning Management System), skits, monologues, or possibly dialogues. The list is endless.
4. Prepare methods and tools for ease of use and in varying modalities: online, paper/pencil, creative versions.
5. Explain to students what will be happening – building a classroom community – and compare to neighborhoods. Talk about how and why to build a classroom community.
6. Engage students in the process, requiring purposeful conversations, reflective writing, and time for feedback/input.
7. Make notes about students as they share, interact, and ask questions: What are their strengths? What are their interests? Share results when appropriate, such as True Colors self-assessments.
8. Talk frequently with students about how working together strengthens learning and teaching experiences. They find this interesting.
9. Be open with students, sharing about yourself what you feel is appropriate – interests, challenges, goals, hobbies, frustrations. Students tell me this makes me ‘real’ and ‘approachable’ as a teacher. The thing my students probably find most fascinating about me is that reading makes me fall asleep. Since I’m a reading instructor by trade, they laugh at this!
10. Organize the course in advance, and change things frequently to keep the class fresh.
Now, I can hear some of you (many?) saying to me, “Robin, there is no way that I have time to do all that. And there’s no way that you do all that!”
Truth is, I’ve ‘tested’ my commitment to building community, and when I don’t take the time to do so, I have a significant increase in disciplinary issues, assignment misunderstandings, and not-so-positive phone calls from home, even at the college level!
On the contrary, when I do take the time to develop a sense of community, students take ownership of their learning environment and course management much more readily (not all, but most), and report a higher degree of satisfaction during and at the end of the course.
Why? Because we all want to feel valued, important, and needed. Taking the time to build the classroom community shows your commitment to students’ positive learning experiences.
And what happens when you don’t take the time and just go through the motions? Read the answers posted to a recent prompt on plinky.com, a website that asks a random question daily to spark your thinking. The prompt was, “Describe your worst teacher ever.” Surprisingly, the answers are similar across grade levels, elementary to college: lack of interest on the part of the instructor, boring, unmotivating, and the list goes on….
Does that mean we have to entertain students? No, I don’t believe so, but it does mean that we need to understand that ‘education’ has changed and we have a professional responsibility to meet students where they are, which we can’t do if we don’t know anything about them.
How would you answer the prompt? You can read my response here.