The first advice I give to new teachers (and honestly any teacher who asks) is to focus on class community. A true community of learners who come together with respect and a common goal both raises growth and development for every human in the room and solves a wide range of classroom management challenges. I spend considerable time at the beginning of the semester focused on community development, because that investment is repeatedly rewarded throughout the rest of the semester or year. If you doubt then you should check out: 3 Reasons You Should Focus On Class Community. There are three critical aspects to my community development efforts.
We Work Together
All of my classes are built around the writing workshop concept. This means our classroom is always a work space where we spend a lot of time reading, thinking, and writing — instructor included. We then talk about that work — a lot. We share our reactions to our reading. We share what we are thinking about. We share what we are writing about and we share our writing when we are comfortable. Sometimes we work together to support our thinking and sometimes we work individually. Sometimes we look like every other classroom (with heads bent diligently over our notebooks) and other times we are loud as we debate and often we are messy as we break out crayons and markers to illustrate our thinking.
We Support Each Other
One of the essential elements of my writing workshop is the constant feedback. As we share our ideas and our work, as we collaborate on small and large projects, we have access to constant feedback from our community. As the instructor I am a part of the feedback loop, but I work to bake in feedback from the class community so students grow less dependent on my opinion and develop more confidence in their own. This participation is a class requirement, but it is also more fun and more engaging for everyone. It means that we all learn exponentially more than if the class was built around my feedback and opinions alone. The support process means helping each member of the community develop a claim for an argument or a driving question for a project as well as locate and evaluate the resources needed to support the work. The support process means helping each member of the community revise and edit the final deliverable. The support process means working together to develop the scoring guide for that deliverable.
We Honor Each Other
While the other aspects of building community are important, it is this honoring of each other as individuals and humans with unique strengths and weaknesses that may be the most impactful work we do in our class community. This is where our mutual respect and admiration are nurtured and this is where we foster independence, self-regulation, and confidence. This process begins from day one when we introduce ourselves and share pieces of our lives. Icebreakers are common in many classrooms, but it is more than simply recognizing who would rather fly or be invisible (or other icebreakers). It is recognizing who we are and how we feel about the work we are about to embark upon. Yes, my first year writing students did create superhero stories to introduce themselves but those stories are not a first-day disposable activity. We are going to build on that work and return to those ideas over and over. We listen to each other’s stories to help us better understand our own as well as our place in the world. Even more important we recognize and honor those who have overcome challenges, bravely made themselves vulnerable, and otherwise contributed to our own growth.
My classroom community works because my students work together, support each other, and honor each other. What are the pillars that make your class community work for you and your students?