One of the most overlooked aspects of classroom management is the importance of building a classroom community. When students are engaged members of a community, they are less likely to disrupt the classroom and are more willing to help keep their peers from doing the same. Students who feel they are part of a classroom community take pride in their classroom, their school and their successes. Building a classroom community is preventative discipline. It is a skill that takes many years of practice to master. Here are three excellent ways to build community.
1) Photos – Your classroom community starts with your families. Children will immediately feel like they are part of the classroom community when they see images of themselves and their family members in the classroom. Whether you invite families to provide pictures of each child with loved ones or you do individual photos of your students in the first week of school, they need to see they belong in the space. Then as quickly as possible after school has started, take group photos. I recommend you do a variety of group combinations in different setting rather then relying on the traditional class photo. This will allow you up incorporate new students easily without having to shoot a new class photo with each new arrival.
2)Vocabulary – A vital aspect of community is a shared vocabulary. In my preschool classrooms we don’t use sweeping terms like black and white to refer to skin color. So one of my earliest lessons is a lesson on people colors where we learn that no one is really white like paper or black like coal. They have amazing labels like peach and mahogany, honey and ginger. When I’m building adult communities I want them to be comfortable to discuss uncomfortable topics such as race and gender. This means role modelling these conversations. You cannot assume your students will have the vocabulary necessary to build a shared language. You must role model it.
3) Culture – A community is defined by its culture. Culture are those unique rituals and routines that bind a group together. In a classroom our culture consists of everything from our daily schedules to how we make transitions. It also incorporates how success is acknowledged, how rules are made, etc. The earlier you introduce your students to your classroom culture the stronger your classroom community will be. A key aspect of my classroom culture is my classroom constitution and the level of citizenship I expect from all my students regardless of grade level or age. For me culture begins with a discussion of rules that transitions to the rights and responsibilities that result in the agreed upon rules. This is a process I go into in depth in my workshop on Building a Classroom Community in a Connected World.