Creating Classroom Community

Your classroom should be a magical place.  It should be, at the very least, a place where kids are excited to go.  Students should look forward to being in your room and they should most definitely look forward to spending time with you.  In the perfect classroom community, your students will also enjoy working with and learning from each other.  But this does not happen because of fancy decorations, comfy chairs, the latest apps, or cute stickers.  For the record, I like all of those things.  But there are far more important actions with which you must be intentional in order to create a positively amazing classroom community.  These are not things you merely hope to have in your classroom, but rather the fundamental ideals you must install, emulate, and uphold.  The presence and aura of community in your classroom is a reflection of your leadership.  It begins and ends with you.  I’m not you and I don’t know your specific skill set, but may my ideals and strategies benefit you and your students in some way.  I’ve studied, researched, and (most importantly) experienced successful classroom management.  I simply cannot imagine trying to create that magic without these 7 ideals.

1. Be a Positive Role Model


This is first on the list because it is the most important.  Kids can spot a fake a mile away, so check your role model resume before you commit to a career as a teacher.  Teaching requires an in depth knowledge of the standards, the ability to write lesson plans, and the fortitude to manage a classroom.  However, going to battle armed only with those cliche’s will certainly stack the odds against you.  Successful teaching requires leadership, charisma, confidence, and patience.  And none of these requirements get to take a day off.  Students look up to you and take their cues from you.  They watch your every move, so be worth watching.  Handle misbehavior peacefully and gracefully.  Don’t yell!  Treat your peers with kindness and respect as an example for your students to follow.  Use correct grammar…always.  Admit your mistakes and be modest.  Don’t embarrass anyone on purpose.  Be healthy.  Value family.  Share your story, but also make time to hear others’.  Model hard work and determination.  Deflect attention from yourself and constantly look for ways to spotlight students.  Be the one who makes people feel good about themselves.  Be approachable and be genuine.  Being a positive role model enables you to have that powerful relationship with your students that is necessary for creating a desirable classroom community.

2. Let your Students be Leaders


Leadership opportunities are empowering!  Students not only benefit from opportunities to be in charge, peers benefit from it as well.  It is amazing what students can learn from each other…if you let them.  Put your experts in charge of small groups.  Allow your students opportunities to solve each other’s technology issues, explain math solutions, or give advice for how to handle a bully.  Why not include a student-written section on your classroom newsletter?  I love featuring students in PSA videos or allowing them to record a voice message to send to parents via the remind app.  It sounds silly, but my 3rd graders loved earning the responsibility to line up the class to leave the room.  Providing daily leadership opportunities not only made the classroom better for students, it did the same for me too!

3. Conduct Morning Meetings


Promote good character by allowing your students to have a voice, learn accountability, and set goals.  A daily meeting promotes a family atmosphere and teamwork can be reinforced as part of your culture.  Behavior issues can be formally addressed and students can share their concerns.  Colleagues have often told me they don’t have time for class meetings.  However, they also asked me how I got my kids to behave so well.  It’s not rocket science.  By setting aside 10 minutes for a meeting I am able to save countless time throughout the day because my management is more efficient, my expectations are crystal clear, my students are able to self monitor, and our team is on the same page.  Simply put, empowered students who know their role and understand their importance are more productive citizens.  They’re pretty happy too!

4. Be Engaging


As exciting as you may think diagramming sentences might be, please check the faces of your students.  Snooze fest.  Students want to have fun and there is no reason why they can’t. Power points (yawn) and lectures (ugh) can quickly lose students. Your anchor chart may be super cute and Pinterest worthy, but are students communicating, participating, and engaging in a meaningful way?  Students are not excited about hearing the material or being reminded that it is important.  They need to experience it in a memorable, or at least enjoyable way.  As a bonus, I have found that as the level of engagement increases, the amount of off-task or undesirable behaviors decreases.  I’m not naive to think this is an easy task, but my experience has shown me that this is one of the most important daily tasks you must fulfill as the teacher.  So put in the time to plan engaging lessons.

5. Let your Students Walk and Talk


Whether with partners or small groups, talking should be a part of your classroom culture.  The manner of talking I’m promoting is most definitely not blurts or off-task side conversations.  I am ,however, a huge fan of meaningful and purposeful conversations between students.  It might be as simple as a 30-second window for students to tell the person next to them what they learned or what they’re thinking.  There’s no way to call on everyone, but by partner sharing or participating in a small group conversation, everyone can be heard.  If students are talking about it, they are able to make deeper connections with the material.  They also have an opportunity to gain further understanding by listening to a peer’s perspective.  Students are adaptive and quickly realize how teachers call on a few and then move on.  It is an easy way for students to hide and prevent full engagement.  Please don’t let this happen.  Provide time and space for student conversations.  I love to let students move to a new location to start a conversation because it allows them to pick a partner and pick a location.  Not only is this decision making empowering, the movement is stimulating and freeing.  Teach this procedure and use it often.  It can also be a great way to escape a lesson that has entered the boredom zone.  Keep teaching from their new locations for a little while and see what happens.  Don’t be surprised if students behave better and maintain better focus simply because they want to keep their new location.  Then you both win, right?  As you can see, this small opening for conversations can prove valuable in many different ways.

6. Make Students do the Heavy Lifting


Your students come to school to work, so put them to it.  The more they do, the more they will learn.  Sometimes the temptation as a teacher is to set it all up for them in order to isolate the standard or frame the essential question.  After all, time is valuable, right?  On the other hand, learning through discovery is an irreplaceable method.  Learning through failure is too!  Students are famous for saying they can’t do it.  What they really mean is they have never tried it before.  Let them.  When a student is taking a long time to think about your question, don’t move on to the next student and don’t bail them out with a lame fill in the blank.  Sometimes students just need time to think.  Unfortunately, many students are conditioned to simply wait it out because teachers will keep moving to the next student or give up the answer.  In those moments when your students are genuinely stuck, don’t embarrass them.  Instead, give them a creative way out and don’t forget to reward effort.  Consistently rewarding effort conditions your students to feel safe and supported enough to take chances.  Flex those leadership muscles until effort becomes a part of your classroom culture and wrong answers are not a self-esteem wrecker.  As far as creative ways out, I rely on teamwork.  Maybe the whole class gets 15 seconds to discuss the question with their pod or group before I return to the original student for the answer.  A quicker solution could be to let the student “phone a friend.”  In the end, what you reward becomes important.  Reward effort, praise teamwork, and make a big deal out of students who can solve their own problems.  Believe it or not, there are times when the best thing you can do as the teacher is to stay out of the way in order to let learning happen.

7. Be Positive and Have Fun


If you’re not having fun, then your students are not either.  It is easy to get stressed in the classroom, especially when things are not going well.  As the leader, your attitude and outlook are extremely important.  Staying positive is a must!  Having a good sense of humor can often save the day and it’s a good way to keep your attitude where it needs to be.  After all, you are the role model and your students feed off of your vibes.  Being uptight about everything will keep your mood in the danger zone and can easily lead to more behavior problems.  An uptight teacher can put students on edge and make them less likely to mesh with you and meet your expectations.  If you look for negative things you will not only find them, but you can also play a role in creating them.  Seriously, looking for the positive in your students and being positive yourself can completely change your outlook on the daily goings-on in your classroom.  It can change your students’ outlook as well.  Be positive about your students.  Be positive about yourself.  And remember, laughter is often the best medicine.

Make it Happen

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I know that teaching is tough.  Kids are curious, they’re mischievous by nature, and they will do something to disappoint you or make you scratch your head once in a while.  On top of that; it can be a grind to prepare lessons, keep up with standards, attend professional development, and accommodate your administration.  There are absolutely times when being a teacher can physically and emotionally drain you.  However, teaching can be extremely rewarding when you make those special connections with your students and you are able to watch them soar!  I realize there are many intangibles in every classroom, but you must be intentional when creating the atmosphere and culture you want in yours.  These 7 components are largely responsible for the classroom community that my students and I have enjoyed for 17 years.  Whether you use all, one, or none of my community components; may you create a classroom where everyone wants to be.  That includes you!