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Dr. Tisha Shipley has been in education for over 23 years. She has taught Pre-K, Kindergarten, Gifted and Talented 3rd-6th Grades, Dr. Shipley was an elementary principal, a cheer coach, and was on...
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Building a Classroom Community of Learners

I had previously written an article on running a classroom community of learners, but I wanted to take a minute to dive deeper into each category. I truly believe that building a classroom community of learners is important. As we are at the close of a school year, summer is a time for teachers to reflect and change things for the upcoming year. Here are some things to consider.

Scenario: Miss Jacob’s Kindergarten classroom is busy each morning, helping one another and taking responsibility for their community. Children are watering the plants, tending the rabbit, feeding the fish and one child is sharpening pencils while another is helping hang backpacks as each student enters the classroom. Each student is busy with a job as the teacher shakes each child’s hand and welcomes them to the community each day. Miss Jacob’s classroom community starts from day one and continues each day for the entire year. Children are expected to act as responsible community members that follow the expectations and contribute to the community by cheering each other on to success and striving to always do their best.

The classroom community starts from day one with:

The Environment: The classroom is set up like a home away from home. You can have the library area set up with a couch and chairs, lamps, and a rug. The teacher and the children spend most of their hours in a day in this environment, so why not make it comfortable and inviting for all that enter? Other things you can do are ensure that you have a class pet, invite the outdoors inside your classroom (open a door or a window) have a microwave (if allowed) where you can cook treats on special days. Each child has his/her own mailbox (cubby), a place to hang their bag/coat, and a place to sit that is only theirs.

Teaching about being a community: teach about the world the children live in. Teach about the town/city, their neighborhood, their church community, sports community, and then the school and classroom community. Use globes, maps, and videos to support your community project. Have community members come in and talk about their jobs and how they fit into the community.

Building Expectations Together/Joint Decision Making: Children come together the first week of school and, with help from the teacher, set the expectations for the school year. As we know, it is harder to break an expectation/rule if we help create it. The expectations are written together and hung up so that all community members can see them. They are also recited often. There may also be a class motto or saying.

Choosing and applying for jobs: Depending on the age and grade level of students, the teacher can interview and ask the children what their interests are or there can be an application process that children can fill out and then interview for.

Jobs/Responsibilities Children are given jobs and responsibilities at the beginning of the school year. Depending on your teaching style, you can also change these jobs as frequently as you would like, but it is recommended that you allow children to keep the same job for a long period of time so the community is not too often disrupted. Ideas for classroom jobs but not limited to: 

  • Veterinarian (Takes care of class pets)
  • Mechanical Engineer (Sharpens pencils)
  • Author (hands out papers to help the teacher)
  • Gardner (waters plants)
  • Meteorologist (tells about the weather during carpet time)
  • Center Monitor (ensures that all centers are cleaned up)
  • Librarian (works in the library center to ensure it stays neat and tidy)
  • Custodian (ensures all chairs are pushed and floors are clean)
  • Electrician (ensures all lights are on or off depending on if the children are in the room or leaving)
  • Travel attendant (ensures all backpacks and coats are hung up)

High Expectations: Classroom communities have high expectations for all, rules must be followed, and the community will run like a well-oiled machine. Everyone knows the rules and what they must do to keep the community running, clean, and a great place to learn each day. Children help to set the expectations for the year and are held accountable.

Procedures/schedules: In a community, the schedule is visible and is labeled with words, pictures, signs, and all languages. The environment is well structured with transitions and procedures; children know what comes next and

Rituals and Routines: These are going to be completed each day, like the class motto, a certain song played when cleaning up centers, the flag salute, breakfast time stories shared by all, etc. These become a relationship-building process for the children.

Building Relationships within the Community: As you start your year, each child must know and understand that everyone in the community is valued. Take field trips to places in town and learn about the different roles of being a community member. Invite the community into your classroom to observe your classroom community and talk about their role in the larger community.

Cheering each other on to success: The community members are expected to respect each person and the diverse background and experiences they bring to the classroom. This is talked about and taught each day. For example: WOW, John is getting to visit Japan over winter break! John, after you come home from Japan, we would love to hear all about what you learned, what you saw, and what was fun!

Children must learn that everyone makes mistakes, breaks the rules, and makes wrong choices. Together we can decide how to try again, fix the issue and or come up with a solution to the problem. This is often done by role-playing, role modeling, and guided conversations with your students.

Friendship: It is important that the teacher teaches students about how to be a friend, how to ask others to be our friends, and how to help our friends in the community. In the community, we can help each other clean up, we can help each other on projects, and if someone is sick, we can take over the job they are given.

Mutual Respect: Everyone in the community is valued, trusted, and important. The community is built on trust and respect for each community member, no matter what. When issues arise, the community must come together and help one another.

Why Build a Classroom Community?

Classroom communities are important for many reasons. Children learn a sense of self; they learn to collaborate and engage in a way that they know they are valued members and that they are needed for the community to run smoothly.

What you will See in Classroom Community:

  1. More engagement
  2. Success
  3. Positivity
  4. Problem Solvers
  5. Self-starter
  6. Higher self-esteem
  7. Team building

As you begin thinking about the new school year, what can you do in your classroom to ensure that you are building a community of learners? What are some of the ideas shared here that you could take and make your own? Building a classroom community is one part of the process, but taking it to the entire building for a school community could be your next step.