This is such an important and sometimes overwhelming prospect: creating a positive classroom community. Daunting because let's face it, getting 20, 7 year olds to be respectful, kind and encouraging for 7 hours, while your main focus is getting through 8 different subjects' curriculum accurately and astutely. To be sure you are: using higher order questioning, scaffolding appropriately and building on prior knowledge. Not an easy task.
As elementary teachers we follow the first 6 weeks of Responsive Classroom, we create classroom rules together, we learn how to share together during daily share time. Are all of these important? Yes. Is there a way to build your classroom community without feeling overwhelmed? Yes!
What's most important in building your classroom community is making sure that everyone feels safe and welcome and a part of the team. It's in creating a climate that is warm, welcoming and safe. Safe is a key word. Your students need to feel safe to share openly, take risks and to think freely. So how do we as teachers accomplish this? It can be broken into 3 areas: meeting daily as a class, open communication and support.
It starts by recognizing that it needs to be done. Everyday should start with a morning meeting. A time to greet one another, share and discuss the days events. Establishing this routine creates predictability and ensures that at least once a day everyone stops to be together, to work together. It builds a sense that everyone is connected and that in the classroom everyone should treat one another as a friend, with respect and kindness. Having this meeting first thing sets the tone for the rest of the day. So that later in the day when a tricky Math lesson is being taught, no one is afraid or to take a risk raising a hand.
Another key component of instilling a strong classroom community is communication. We must teach our students how to communicate with one another. How do we politely say good morning? What is the appropriate tone to have with someone who is upset? What words do you use if someone has hurt your feelings? Each of these scenarios are things that need to be taught, we can't assume that our students understand the ins and outs of communication. A great way to do this is to highlight when you notice a student communicating well. After Jimmy uses his words to help a friend feel better, 'Jimmy, I noticed that you used a kind tone and that you offered words of encouragement to help your friend feel better. Let's all try to do the same.' Jimmy now becomes the model in that moment.
The last piece is support. It is crucial to have a support network within the classroom. As the teacher you are the central support. You intervene when two of your students aren't seeing eye to eye, you scaffold a lesson for a student who is struggling, you allow a student to take a break...to think, after he/she has made a bad choice to think. It's important too that the teacher isn't the only means if support. Students need to play a support role for one another as well. By giving your students this responsibility it instills that they are a valid piece of the community and that they play an important role. You can do this by handing the job over to them. At the beginning of the year tell them that one of their jobs for the year is to be a 'helper.' A helper in the classroom, on the playground, in the cafeteria. If they see someone who needs help to help that friend out. If they see a friend making a bad choice, to remind that friend what they should be doing. If they see someone hurting another friend, to go to a teacher and ask for help. Children are able to take on this role and it enables them to have a real part in making good choices and helping others to as well.
When it comes down to it, your classroom community is what you make it. It takes some time and some effort, but the results are priceless. Why not take the time to make it a place where everyone is a part of the team?