So far I have written 93 blog posts about creating and supporting community in the classroom, but most of those posts focus on one specific aspect of community developing or support (such as why). I am long overdue for a discussion of why teachers need to think about community throughout the semester. This is even more crucial at a time like now (as COVID-19 sweeps across the globe and impacts teaching in every American classroom at every level). Community development should never be a one-time ice breaker on the first day of class, it should be continuous throughout the semester or school year.
I have written many many posts about community, because community is an important part of learning and especially learning to write. For these reasons community is essential to much of the work that work that takes place in my classes. This fact is made apparent when you check out the Community tag and discover the focus of those posts is not even community. Through the years I have focused on how to build community (including specific tips such as Me Museums) and why you should build community (note: others agree community building is a top priority). But the bottom line is the community makes the learning possible and it makes it more fun. Why would you not use a tool that offers so many engagement rewards?
One of the ways that I keep community front and center in my classes, in addition to creating lots of feedback loops that involve community interaction, is by including community as a standard. Students are accountable to each other and to me for their support of our community. One way that I like to support community connections is the use of badges to offer community members a way to recognize the extra-ordinary contributions of others. That standard is assessed (in part) by the badges students award and receive. Badges are visible recognition of the importance of community and an individual support for the community.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT includes active class participation both face-to-face and online as well as recognizing the contributions of peers by awarding badges.
I have often suggested that it is necessary to recalibrate as a community after a break (whether imposed by the calendar at Christmas or the weather – here in Kentucky we often miss a week of school at time when weather events such as snow, ice, or floods strike). During this time of tremendous change and uncertainty recalibration can be even more important. For example, my students are just now coming off Spring Break and as a hybrid class the last time we talked in person was 11 days ago. On that day we expected there would be some changes by the end of Spring Break, but none of us anticipated such sweeping and dramatic changes to our lives and educational circumstances. Certainly we did not anticipate that we would never see each other again. Obviously such international upheaval is extremely rare, but we have all known that local events can be just as dramatic and affecting which means that communities should recalibrate to adjust to the new circumstances. So perhaps revisit some community-building activities with a twist just to ground everyone that even though many things have changed much has not and that we are still the same people. Carefully handcraft some activities especially writing activities that can help your class community reset.
This is a time to reset your class and focus on the basics. Why not focus on creating a community of writers? You can attend to a wide range of standards while also helping your students cope with life as we currently know it. Remember that community doesn’t just happen even if your community members already knew each other. And last but not least, remember that it is possible (I know!) to create an online community! What are you doing to rebuild and reconnect your class community? We are going to do some slam poetry.