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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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Planning, Managing and Running a Classroom Community of Learners

In this world, we all live in a community. Some communities run better than others. Some people like their community, and some may want to move from where they live. What sets each community apart? Think about where you live and then think about a friend that lives in a different community. What are the things each has in common? What are the differences? Now think about all the classrooms you have been in. What makes them different? What makes them the same? How can we, as teachers, ensure that our classroom community is a place where everyone wants to be and is engaged as community members?

 Here are some ideas to think about as you begin building your community: 

  1. Environment: First impressions last a lifetime. You only have that one time to welcome each child and their family into your classroom. It should be bright, decorated with things that interest the children, and a place you also want to be every day. There should be different areas set up so that each material and space is claimed (cubbies/mailboxes, a place for the children to keep their belongings, a place for each child to sit that is only their space, designated center areas, a place where the teacher sits, carpet time/circle time, time out space, whole group space and a place where a child can work alone or the teacher can work with them one on one). Often the family and child will see the space before getting to talk to you. In a community of learners, the children know the environment, they know each space, and it is the communities job to keep the environment clean, safe, and fun.
  2. Procedures/Schedules: As you get to know each child, there will be a definite daily schedule where the children know what to expect. You may do this through a visual schedule so all learners can understand it. The room should be labeled so they know where and what everything is. The schedule should allow time for children to be very active, along with times for them to sit and be still working. Children should be moving, singing, dancing, and conversing with peers and the teacher. There should be time planned for the whole group, small group, one on one time, work alone (if they choose), work in small groups at centers, and a time for free choice. Procedures are put in place so that each child knows and understands how things are accomplished. This starts from how they walk into the classroom to how they pack up and clean the environment. The teacher should stand at the door and shake each child’s hand and welcome them to their room every morning. The child then puts up their belongings and begins their responsibilities in the community. The day should be full of engagement.
  3. Engagement: The environment should be full of engagement, where children can be themselves, they can work on things that they are interested in, and where they can finish projects that are important to them. If children are engaged in the community on a variety of projects, this will help minimize the discipline problems that can arise.
  4. Relationships: Building positive relationships from day one in the community is vital. All students need to know and understand that everyone is unique. Everyone comes to the community with new ideas, backgrounds, and characteristics. They need to feel valued, and they should know it is ok to make mistakes because that is how everyone learns. Not only is it important to build relationships inside the community, but also with families, and other classrooms. You may invite others into your community and have a party or share with them what you are doing. Much of your classroom community can be shared through Parent Parties.
  5. Jobs/responsibilities: Each person in the community has a job or responsibility (feeding the class animal, watering flowers, sharpening pencils, setting out snacks, cleaning the table, getting a center ready for the day, filling mailboxes, vacuuming the carpet, etc.). When each person has a job, they take pride in the community, and they understand that it takes everyone to make the community what it is. This is a very important one. If a child is gone one day, you make take volunteers to cover the absent child’s job.
  6. Joint decision-making: In the classroom, children can help you make choices. They can help you set expectations for the classroom, such as how many children should be In a center, what they will have for the daily snack, etc. This gives them power. When children have power over choices and decisions, they are likely to follow whatever the community decides and learn how to make positive choices.
  7. Problem solvers: In the classroom community, the teacher must model, re-teach procedures when they are not done correctly, and role-play how to handle situations. Children want to know how to handle conflict. Show them! Teach them how to use their words and talk about problems. Show them how to make good choices by modeling how to think out loud and how to weigh out options.
  8. High Expectations: In a classroom community where children have responsibilities, they have a joint decision-making process, they know how to problem solve, and they are engaged in relationships that are friendly and courteous, the classroom is full of high expectations for all. And children want to meet your expectations.
  9. Everyone has a Chance/Everyone will succeed: From day one, children feel valued in a community, they know their job is important, they understand that it is ok to make a mistake, and everyone cheers each other on so that they can succeed.
  10. Friendship: Children realize what friendship is and what it means. In the community, we cheer each other on, we respect each other, we use a nice tone of voice, and we share and engage in play and learning. In the community, everyone helps each other so that the entire community succeeds. 
  11. Mutual respect and trust: There may be a time in the community when something goes wrong, something fails, etc. This is the time that everyone bands together, shares responsibility, encourages, solves the problem, and makes a decision on how to move forward.

A classroom community runs like a well-oiled machine. Throughout the day, we teach our children much math, science, reading, etc. What about real-life decisions and choices? What about being a good friend or ensuring that your job is completed for the day? You may have to try many things to get your community running smoothly, but I promise it is worth it. The classroom community is something that can be used by all age groups and school-wide. Each year the children just move to a new community, which gets them ready for real-life experiences. The classroom community should be built before the school year begins and should continue each day throughout the entire school year. How can you start this when your students get back from Winter break? What are your ideas? How will you start building your community today?



Tisha Shipley is an associate professor and the Chair of the BA ECE Admin program at an online university. She received a doctorate of education in Curriculum and Instruction from Northcentral University and a master's degree in Elementary Education/Administration and a bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education from Northwestern Oklahoma State University. She has taught multiple grade levels at Moore Public Schools, including pre–K children and gifted 3rd–6th graders, and served as a cheer sponsor and a principal. Shipley presents at early childhood conferences and helps teachers in their classroom. She has also started a teacher website to help teachers, parents, aspiring teacher candidates, and administrators at

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