As teachers, we all know it’s best to create a safe learning environment, where students feel free to take risks, collaborate, and interact with both their fellow classmates and their teacher. But what exactly does that look like and what does it mean? Below are three easy ways you can create community in your classroom, ensuring your students feel at ease and are excited to participate in the learning process.
- Build community FROM the first day of school: Start out the first few weeks of the school year by heavily investing in activities surrounding friendship. I anchored friendship with a daily read aloud from Bridge to Terabithia. This award-winning children’s book is the ultimate definition of friendship and personifies how it should be fostered and treasured. It is a beautiful depiction of two friends from very different lifestyles and socio-economic statuses who join together to create a magical, secret world, binding and solidifying their bond. Do LOTS of literacy and cross-content activities as you progress through the book. Allow time for discussion after each daily read. Here is an excellent resource you can use to guide your whole-class read of Bridge to Terabithia.
- Build community BEYOND the first day of school: Assign each student a weekly job. WE are responsible for our classroom and to keep it running efficiently and smoothly, WE must all do our part. Jobs can range from technology coordinator, teacher assistant, messenger, line leader, door holder, librarian, plus many, many more! Giving students responsibilities empowers them to become leaders, and they take ownership and pride in sustaining and maintaining their classroom community. “Pay” your students with daily points for their work. It’s good for them to make a connection between work and earning income. Assign a payroll specialist to give each student 5 points per day for successfully completing their task. At the end of the week, all students get to redeem points for prizes from the classroom store. Or they can choose to “bank” and save their points for bigger “purchases” down the road! Students get to reap the benefits and feel rewarded for their hard work! (Plus, you are even meeting several financial literacy and social studies standards! ANOTHER WIN!)
- Build community OUTSIDE of the first day of school: I can’t say it enough, but CELEBRATE, CELEBRATE, and CELEBRATE some more ALL during the school year. Celebrate each student’s birthday! It’s the one day a year all about them and they should be made to feel extra special on this day. Celebrate good grades! Celebrate a new baby in the family! Celebrate accomplishments! Celebrate goals achieved! And, let them celebrate you! Share your personal victories (e.g., completing a course, getting married, educational awards, or something as simple as reading and completing a book). Students will THRIVE in an environment where they feel safe to celebrate their wins and to celebrate others!
Now that you’ve learned some ways to create community in your classroom, what are some things YOU do to create a safe and risk-free learning environment?
Sara McDaniel M. Ed., currently an award-winning educational sales consultant with Teacher Created Materials, is a seasoned elementary classroom teacher and has served as both a building- and district-level school administrator. Serving in schools and districts in both Louisiana and Arkansas, Sara’s students thrived in her positive, upbeat learning environment. Connect with Sara on Twitter @mcdanielsara.