Building Community in your Classroom
School starts soon for many. Some have started already. If you think of your classroom as a community of learners right away, then the culture changes. What is the culture of your classroom? Do you...
- spend hours and hours getting your classroom ready?
- buy lots of posters and materials to put on bulletin boards?
- arrange all the furniture just the right way?
If so, you have set the culture of your classroom where you are in control, you manage what happens in your classroom, and your classroom is teacher-centered from the start. I'm not saying you have to take everything down and start over, but think about what it might look like to your learners if you...
- left the bulletin boards and walls empty so the room was an empty canvas ready for the community to design?
- had all the furniture in the middle of the classroom and had each learner help arrange the desks or tables together?
This sounds like chaos and you may not be ready to do something like this. So start slow. The classroom is where your learners will be part of for almost 9 months. It is their home with you. Consider your life as a learner. What was it like? Did you have any say in how you would learn or contribute to the classroom?
Communities work if there is trust and respect. I remember sitting at desks in rows. Fear was one way to control the class in the classes I attended. Was it yours? Did it work? I didn't feel much respect in many of my years as a learner - even in college. I felt I knew a lot but was not given many opportunities to share what I knew or dreamed about or wanted to know. I was tested on facts that were not relevant to me. I remember an art class where the teacher scolded me because I went outside the lines. I came from a home of artists where there were no lines. What about you? What was it like in school when you grew up?
Some of you probably hear " if it was good for me, it's good for my child." Remember your experience and what it might feel like for your learners in your classroom. Their lives and experiences are connected and different than many of their teachers. Their experiences include the Internet, mobile devices, and have everything at their fingertips.
If you already set up your classroom or that's just too out there for you. Then take a chance to arrange your furniture in an unconventional way. Then ask your students for feedback. Keep some of the walls or bulletin boards empty and ask your students to submit ideas on what to put on them. Have ways to hang student work or questions from your students from the ceiling.
Some more ideas for the first few days of school:
- meet and greet each student at the door with a smile and a handshake.
- invite everyone to contribute to the class rules -- include some off the wall, funny rules.
- use an icebreaker or have them tell a story so everyone has a voice the first few days.
- share what the expectations are for the year and ask for feedback.
I'm sure some of you are thinking "this is an open classroom and I saw it before." I'm talking about learner voice and choice. This is a classroom where everyone is part of the community and sharing in decisions. There is a feeling that each voice matters. I am only touching on a few points and know there are so many wonderful teachers out there who can share more.
How would you build a community of learners where there is trust and respect?