We teachers do hear about ways to build classroom community, but standards, curriculum, and data still dominate the conversation. Our success as educators still feels like it’s mostly measured by our students’ achievements and growth on high stakes testing. It’s like the Assessment Establishment figures that if we just throw the material at our kids, they’ll get it. Right?
Wrong. Every teacher knows that teaching is so much more than just the material. There’s no place on the data chart to record whether Susie had dinner the night before, or if Johnny could sleep through the violence going on in his house at 3:00 a.m. The testing window makers don’t plan around tornadoes and other natural events that can change a child’s entire life in a matter of seconds. In short, the hierarchy of needs doesn’t even remotely fit in to the number crunching that tells which kids and teachers are doing the best job.
If you’re hanging around on this blog, though, you probably didn’t get into this profession for the numbers. I imagine you’re just as concerned about whether your kids will have enough to eat this weekend as you are about how they do on your tests. You can make more of a difference in their school experience than you think, though, by creating a strong classroom community. Students can overcome even the most dire circumstances when they spend their days in a tight-knit classroom where the boundaries and understanding make them feel safe. Here are five easy ways you can create those community relationships from day one.
Learn Your Students’ Hearts to Build Classroom CommunityWhen students walk in each day, one of the best time investments you’ll make is to find out their likes, their concerns, and all those crazy things that excite them.Click To Tweet
You can do this simply through surveys you give them the first day of school and then each quarter, or you can switch it up with scavenger hunts to find questions, scoot games, writing prompts, and other creative activities. Because kids’ interests change often, it’s good to ask questions frequently to stay current on what makes your students tick. Try to avoid questions about what they did over summer break or over the weekends, as some kids will feel that they don’t have anything worthwhile to share. Instead, focus your questions on students’ favorites—you can keep it as simple as colors, books, or food.
Greet students at the door every morning.
You may have seen those cool videos on-line where teachers have a special morning handshake with each kid who comes into their room. That is the ultimate form of relationship building because each student has their own unique bond with the teacher that doesn’t look like anyone else’s.
If that kind of interaction is not your style or you’re crunched for instructional time, a simple “Good Morning” is at least a start. Your smile may be the first one a child sees each morning, and your kind words may be the first ones heard. This is such a simple way to build classroom community.
Talk to Your Students
Take any opportunity you can to simply talk to your kids about some of the interests they shared with you on their surveys. You can walk around at recess or other “down times” during the day and just visit with your students. While elementary kids are usually more forthcoming with information than middle and high school students, they will all come around if you “leave the door open.” Most kids will eagerly engage in conversation if they think you are interested in what they have to say, and these interactions will help more reluctant kids open up to you.
It’s amazing how far a simple question about a students’ soccer or baseball tournament, or a remark about a TV show or sporting event, will go to help you connect with students. If you can spend a couple of minutes googling a video game, program, or YouTube channel you hear mentioned frequently and bring your knowledge into your lessons somehow, kids will pay attention. They will love the fact that you value their interests.
Be a Lunch Buddy
Invite kids to have lunch with you in your room every now and then. In upper elementary grades, they generally love to eat with adults and will talk your ear off about just about any topic you bring up. Students value time spent this way and will find it easy to connect with you when they realize how much you care. The simple act of seeing your kids is one of the quickest ways to build a powerful classroom community.
Create Private Jokes
Humor can warm the coldest heart. I’ve worked with many teachers who create silly nicknames for kids from the first weeks of school. I’ve seen grown students comment on social media about the nicknames their favorite teachers gave them when they were younger. Most students get a kick out of this kind of joking around, but you need to tread lightly here. Some children don’t like teasing in even the most innocuous form and will totally shut down on you if you hand them a nickname they don’t find to be cool.
I like to use books to create the jokes and connecting statements. During poetry month, I have a ball teaching William Carlos Williams’ poems using Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. I once told my whole class about my weekend using only poems inspired by “The Red Wheelbarrow.” With some groups, we’ve had conversations where every sentence started with “So much depends upon.”
Who says instruction can’t be fun, playful, and a vehicle through which to connect with kids?
So there you have it—a few easy ways to build a strong and positive classroom community. When students have a safe and loving place to come each day, they will accomplish more academically than they ever thought possible! Happy teaching!