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How to create a community in the classroom

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Students are most motivated when they feel they are part of a community in which they feel accepted and in which individuality is encouraged. By definition a community is a group of people who work with one another building a sense of trust, care, and support – kind of like a family. This means that in our classrooms, part of our job is to provide opportunities and structures by which students can work collaboratively and support and help one another. Creating a motivating classroom community which fosters a sense of belonging peacefully does not happen by accident but requires time, persistence and planning. The following ideas will help you do it.

Community Builder #1:
Hold Student Meetings

Meetings with selected students are valuable tools for finding out what is or is not working for them, for handling issues that arise and for seeking ideas about how things can improve. They are also perfect for building bonds with your students and provide opportunity to give positive feedback in a private setting.

Giving your students a voice and involving them in decisions makes them feel more connected and shows you value them; it shows you are there to support them and care sincerely about their progress. Meetings should be scheduled once a week or once a fortnight with small groups of up to five students, who can be grouped according to their level of motivation/interest. It is a good idea to give the groups a positive label such as ‘Solutions Focus Group A’ which conveys to them that they have been recruited to help you make improvements for the benefits of the whole class, and that their opinions and ideas are valued.

An emphasis needs to be placed on the fact that the meeting is for their benefit and that you need their opinions and ideas. It is also important to make it clear that the purpose of the meetings is NOT to apportion blame or complain about lack of work, rather it is to solicit ideas from the students about how to make things better and to talk about what is working (“we’ll do more of these activities”) and what isn’t working (“we’ll do fewer of these activities or seek to improve them”).

 

Community Builder #2:
Give Them Ownership of the Physical Environment

Research suggests that a warm and caring environment improves attendance and motivation and that the more input students have, the better the sense of belonging they gain. Remember:

It is far easier for them to reject and opt out of something they don’t feel involved in than it is for them to turn their backs on something they’ve helped create.

Students can be asked to contribute and get involved in the following ways:

  • Create a photo board with pictures taken of the class involved in various activities throughout the term. Seeing themselves as part of the physical environment will go a long way towards making young children feel comfortable but they will also enjoy learning about their friends’ families too.
  • Designate a display board as the ‘Graffiti Wall’. Put up a background of painted brickwork and give each student the opportunity to define their own name or ‘tag’ in graffiti lettering and stick them up on the wall. Students of all ages love this activity. 
  • Ask them to bring in reading materials or quiet activities so they can read their magazines and play quiet games in free time. If you have the space and resources to have a designated ‘quiet area’ so much the better.
  • Provide a Student Notice Board’ on which class members can put up notices, adverts, invitations, certificates, letters, samples of work , photos etc.
  • Create a suggestion box for students to come up with ways to make the classroom better.
  • Involve them in arranging and decorating the room.
Community Builder # 3:
Bonding Sessions

The benefits of team-building exercises and getting-to-know-you activities in relation to developing peer relationships and classroom community are significant. They provide the opportunity for individual students to develop communication skills, appreciate each other’s strengths and capabilities and bond with one another. Activities can be incorporated into lessons as aids to learning or can be scheduled as one-off lessons or starter activities. Time spent off curriculum on these activities is never wasted and will be paid back in terms of increased motivation, improved morale and better relationships.

I have included an array of team-building activities within three of my other titles: The FUN Teachers’ Tool Kit, The Active Learning Tool Kit and ‘Attention-Grabbing Starters & Plenaries’ which are all available at reasonable cost through Amazon. These books are jammed with starters, plenaries, fill-ins, ice-breakers, team-builders and games to engage your switched off students. Getting them interested in any activity in the classroom – even one not strictly related to the curriculum – is a tremendous first step in turning around severely disengaged students. Once they see that the classroom can be interesting and enjoyable, you have a foundation for growth and further learning.

Community Builder # 4:
Cooperative Group Work

By setting up cooperative learning activities for your students you actually meet all three needs – Belonging, Power & Fun – which makes this a very effective strategy for increasing motivation in lessons.

Positive peer relationships are developed as a result of students helping each other to reach a common goal. Attention-seeking students are no longer alone; attention is being received from their fellow group members so there is less incentive to disrupt. Lower-achieving students also benefit by gaining confidence and motivation by working together with the higher achieving students. Higher-achieving students also benefit by helping and guiding the lower-achievers by reinforcing their understanding of the material. Social skills such as self-expression, decision making abilities, collaboration, problem solving, responsibility, sharing, listening, and conflict management are all naturally developed.

There is a hidden benefit too – cooperative & active learning activities SAVE YOU TIME. In many cases, once your students are used to the frameworks, they effectively teach themselves. Suddenly you are free from constant requests for attention and can actually enjoy giving quality support when it is required rather than when it’s demanded.

 

Want More Resources & Tips?

If you want more useful classroom management tools and strategies then check out my FREE resources at http://needsfocusedteaching.com/free-resources/

In addition, if you prefer to have all your tips and strategies in one place, be sure to check out my books on Amazon. Just search for any of the following titles:

Take Control of the Noisy Class

Motivate the Unmotivated

Attention-Grabbing Starters & Plenaries

Classroom Management Success in 7 Days or Less

The Cooperative & Active Learning Tool Kit

The Fun Teacher’s Tool Kit

Connect With Your Students

The Classroom Management Tool Kit