Kids spend a huge amount of time at school. And, the experience of going to school is about much more than learning new concepts and mastering standards—it’s also a primary opportunity for social learning. The classroom is one of the main places where kids get to know themselves, where attitudes and values are formed, and where skills are built to interact effectively with others. That being the case, building a strong community atmosphere in your classroom is one of the most valuable things you can do as an educator. Not only will you see student achievement increase as students feel more at-ease, but you can also help support an environment of equity and inclusion. Check out these 7 tips!
Create a classroom constitution
This is a great strategy to start the year or semester off with everyone on the same page. Gather all of your students as a group, and ask what is most important to them in a learning environment. Maybe it’s setting the expectation to accept others’ ideas, to be outstanding listeners, or to offer each other compliments on good work. Help your students decide on four or five guidelines and write them down as a “pledge” which everyone can sign. Make sure it’s displayed prominently in the classroom as a reminder to students of the expectations they set for themselves.
Establish regular routines
We’re all creatures of habit, and that’s why some well-established classroom routines can make such a big difference for you and your students. Routine breeds comfort and familiarity, and deepens shared experiences—all of which will help to build a strong feeling of community in your classroom. Consider starting class with a similar “bell work” activity every morning, incorporating a regular mindful practice to help students reset after lunch, or celebrate a week of hard work every Friday afternoon with a fun hands-on activity. The options are endless; what matters is consistency!
Help your students connect
It’s natural for everyone to gravitate toward certain people—usually those that seem most similar to ourselves. This phenomenon is certainly true in the classroom, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. However, when kids only interact with a select few of their peers, they’re robbed of the critical chance to learn how to effectively work with others—not to mention the possibility of new friendships. So, try to create frequent opportunities for students who may not typically gravitate to one another to work together and get to know one another. You will probably encounter some rocky moments, but use them as learning opportunities to help the students understand one another and work through their differences. Once students realize that this is the norm in your classroom, they’ll stop fighting it and look forward to the next time they can work with yet another one of their peers. You’d be surprised how far this simple strategy can go toward developing open, accepting mindsets in your students!
Prioritize communication and student recognition
Communication is key to effective relationships, and the classroom is no exception. By building clear, regular lines of communication between yourself and your students, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goals. Try creating a class website to post classroom news and resources, and serve as a forum to display student work and celebrate achievements. Or, hold regular all-class meetings where students have a designated chance to offer feedback on topics like what they would like to learn about, what lessons they have or have not enjoyed, and any concerns they have. Practice accountable talk strategies by offering suggested question and statement starters to help students learn how to best express their feelings. It can also be helpful to establish clear guidelines for students to offer one another feedback through peer-review rubrics.
Model acceptance and inclusion
Kids are consistently more aware of adults’ actions than they get credit for. And, as their teacher, you’re an important role model for your students. So, consistently model the kind of respectful, inclusive behavior that you want to instill in them. If a student is upset, calmly listen to them and validate their feelings. Talk about and celebrate the different backgrounds, interests, and talents of your students. And always address bullying up-front by explaining how it makes others feel. This can be difficult when you feel like you’ve been putting fires out all day, but capitalizing on these teachable moments can go a long way to reinforce a positive classroom community.
Experiment with classroom design
A comfortable, engaging physical environment can have a huge effect on students’ emotions, and in turn, their behavior. Bright colors, interesting wall décor, and varied seating all make an impact. Experiment with different seating arrangements, offering students different options outside of the traditional rows of desks. Try setting up some tables for group work, a comfy library with couches or pillows for independent reading, or some raised tables that students can stand at.
Randomize your name-calling
This may seem obvious, but it’s a tried and true strategy. A system to randomize the way you call on students during class, such as popsicle sticks or cards with students’ names, is a simple, powerful tool to make sure that everyone is getting the opportunity to contribute. There will always be those kids whose hands shoot up immediately, but the ones whose hands rarely rise have just as much to say—and everyone will benefit from the chance to work on speaking and listening skills.
Looking for more strategies to build a positive classroom learning environment? Check out this blog for 5 Tips to Develop a Growth Mindset in Your Classroom!