Building a Classroom Community

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The 2019-20 school year officially started on Wednesday.  We’ve only been in school for three days, but it seems like a full week and then some.  Teachers had institute and professional development on Monday and Tuesday.  The first few days of school tend to be full of community building, learning new routines and organization. Everyone is nicely asked to be patient as new routines are established – such as going to lunch, specials, arrival and dismissal. Teachers also talk about the different procedures involved in all the weather and emergency related drills.  Most classrooms have and are continuing to build community and rapport in their classrooms.  They create expectations together and come to a common understanding of what they look and sound like.  This year teachers are asked to conduct morning meetings with their classes.  The idea sounds interesting and is one way in which to help reinforce the community aspect of a classroom while addressing social/emotional learning standards. This is a first in my district so the verdict is still out on how it’ll be received, but I’m optimistic and I think there’s potential in starting the day off with this structure.

I often loop with my students for multiple grades so I tend to stay away from using the whole-class community builders year after year.  In my mind it keeps our activities fresh, although there have been time where I use similar projects, but in those cases the final products are different.  I’ll be highlighting two activities that I used this week in this posts.  Both activities are designed for teachers and students to get to know each other better.  Both were found on Sarah’s fantastic blog post.

How well do you know _____?

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Hints aren’t given and students are asked to fill in every blank – even if they don’t have an answer.  I give the students around 5-10 minutes to come up with a solution.  Sometimes students will work in groups. The class then reviews the answers as I display the sheet under the document camera.  The students’ answers are telling and a few downright made me laugh. Those shared experience can be brought out as the school year progresses.  The template can be found here.

Getting to know you quiz

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After I collect the responses from the first activity I move on to this one.  I tell the students that it’s now their turn.  They’re asked to create a quiz that I’ll fill out, except this one is multiple choice.  I give them a few sample question ideas and they’re off to the races.  Some students even use the “none of the above” or “all of the above” for a letter.  Students have around 15 minutes to complete this and it gets turned in.  Here’s an example from two years ago.   I answer the questions that evening and return the sheets the next day.  Students get a “teacher marker” and grade my work.  From a teacher’s perspective, I’m hoping I get at least one right on each page.  Sometimes I get more and sometimes less.  I’ve had my share of humble pie in these instances, but it’s worth it.  I might even ask a sibling to even the odds : ) .  Anyway, students get a kick out of “grading” the work and then the class discusses how we’re all learning and getting to know each other.  This will help our community grow and how we react to perceived mistakes is important.   Feel free to use this doc to make it your own.


I’m hoping that these activities are a good start to helping build a worthwhile community of learners.  Being able to reference the student responses throughout the year is another shared experience that benefits all involved.  I’m looking forward to next week as we dive into more content, but I’m also keeping in mind that community is key.

 

Community Building and Content

I think it’s safe to say that I’m slowly transitioning into school mode.  It’s inevitable and happens every year, but the month of August seems to fly by as a new school year approaches.  Over the past few weeks I’ve bought items for my classroom and have started some planning here and there.  Next week I’m planning on dropping by my room and start the unpacking process (I changed classrooms).  That is unless HGTV decides to makeover my classroom over the weekend.  So right now I’m drinking coffee and being a bit reflective.  I’ve opened up my planbook and am starting to ink in the first couple days.  While doing this a few questions have crossed my mind.

Will students be receptive to the beginning of the year tasks/activities? Are the activities related to my content area and does that matter?  Will the activities be remembered one day, five days, or even five months from now?  How will the activities impact the rest of the year and how will students remember them?

Many students get excited about new tasks or activities.  I find this happens quite frequently at the elementary level. The beginning of the year often yields plenty of classroom community building activities.  These may or may not be associated with the content that’s taught.  The emphasis is on building a positive classroom environment and often helps set the stage for the rest of the school year.  During this time students often work in groups and there’s generally a reflective piece near the end where a consensus is made.  Sometimes the classes develop norms and touch on the idea of growth mindset.  Usually these activities end after the first few days of school.  As the community building time ends students know what’s going to happen next.

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Should this be the process?

A shift is approaching and then it comes.  Kids know this and so do the adults.  All of a sudden homework starts being assigned and lesson sequences arrive.  It’s no longer “community building time” and we’re now in (insert your content area) time.  It’s often expected that the norms that were established and community building will last throughout the year.  It’s been established, right?

Not so much.  I find that teachers have to revisit the community building, norms and other themes periodically – not just after a long break. Otherwise those themes become like the posters on classroom walls – ignored after a certain amount of time. Students are used to playing the game of school.  Having novel beginning of the year activities and building a classroom community aren’t mutually exclusive.  Students and teachers are often reminded that the culture of the classroom is always evolving.

There’s often a perception that teachers need to dive into curriculum as fast as possible.  This is often perpetuated with scope-and-sequence guidelines and expectations.  Why not blend the community building activities and your content area?  That’s why I’m a fan of having math as part of the community building process.  Blending in content and community building can happen and I think it helps the sudden transition that sometimes becomes apparent.  I think also revisiting some of these community building activities throughout the year can give perspective and remind everyone of the importance.