It seems like all I’ve done my entire life is go to school or teach at a school. I have been either teacher or student. When I’m not in a school being the teacher, I am the student being taught. I am either in the classroom learning about the field or in the field applying what I’ve learned. From this research, I have heard a variety of techniques and methods for being the most effective teacher in the classroom and there is something that continues to surface regardless of which kind of class I am taking. Courses in classroom management, mindfulness, mental health, and effective pedagogy have all concluded the same thing…that the most effective classrooms are the ones where the teacher establishes the classroom as a community.
Before really giving it much thought, I appreciated this sentiment. Of course a teacher wants kids to feel like they belong. Of course kids will behave better if they feel like they are accepted. But it goes so much deeper than that and that’s why I can’t emphasize enough the importance of fostering a community atmosphere in your classroom. And I’m not saying, I think everyone works pretty well together so they must be a community. I mean deliberately placing an emphasis on fostering this community in your room. I mean actually creating a system or strategically sprinkling in lessons that are consistently helping them becoming a community. Now, if you are reading this and you are rolling your eyes because you of course already know this, employ this and this is not much use to you, I welcome you to stop reading but please come back next week because we are all about building a community at Teaching Well and we need you as part of our community.
But I am going to be vulnerable right now and put it out there. I always thought that my classroom functioned in community, but after really contemplating, I’m not so certain. For the most part, kids got along but I can not tell you in absolute terms that I fostered this dynamic. Kids weren’t blatantly mean to each other, but kids can be sneaky. Kids weren’t unwilling to have someone be in their group, but I don’t know if they really interacted with the person they didn’t know when my back was turned. So after contemplating and taking an honest account of my classroom, I can honestly say that I’m not sure if my classroom was a true community. Kids generally liked me, so they generally did what I asked them to do and generally did the work and participated.
As I look back, I don’t want to be terribly hard on myself because I believe that most times it was a positive learning environment but here’s what I am going to do differently and I welcome you to take this hard look at your own classroom. Are you fostering community or are kids just listening to you? I don’t know if I ever thought there was a difference but there is a distinct and very important difference. If the kids are just doing everything you need them to do they either fear you, respect you or a little of both. This builds a community that is more about you then about them. If you are building a real community, it’s about what you are doing to cultivating this environment but really it’s about them forging relationships with each other. And please, this is not hokey stuff. It’s not about singing kumbaya or anything like that. It’s not about having warm and fuzzy moments. It’s about breaking down the barriers we build between each other as human beings and getting some serious work done. This serious work = learning in a classroom. If you front load the semester with building community and tend to it throughout, you will probably get more authentic learning done by more kids. Because guess what, kids are able to learn better when they feel comfortable and their brains are not on high alert. When they can breathe when they come to your room, their little brains are more ready to receive those equations, readings, lesson, definitions and statistics.
So as you plan your lessons, try to think about the classroom community that you are (or are not) fostering. It may seem like you can’t possibly have time to do something more because there are already too many demands and not enough time, but I ask you to try it. Just sprinkle in those moments of community building through finding common ground, sharing stories, interacting in authentic ways and see if that time spent doesn’t help build relationships that will increase real student learning and decrease classroom management issues.
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