Building Community in the Classroom: Why Every Teacher Needs to Do it
Being alone and isolated, cast off from your friends and peers, is a terrible place to be. As a teacher, you don’t want to live that way, and neither do your students. Fortunately, you can prevent that from happening to your students — by deliberately taking steps to foster community in your classroom.
It’s tempting to think that putting a collection of children in the same classroom forms a community. But that’s not how it works. A community forms when a group has a common purpose, treats all of its members well and gets everybody involved.
I can hear the objections. “I’m being paid to teach a subject, not to develop a community. That’s somebody else’s job.” Try to let go of that kind of thinking. Your students need you to help them feel they are part of something.
Here’s why I think all teachers should work on community building in the classroom:
We’re better together
The past is littered with examples of people who thought they could succeed by themselves. Sure, there are scattered cases where people succeeded through sheer force of will and cunning, but their victories most often were temporary.
The longest-lasting, most positive change comes from a group working together. Real success requires a community. Say this out loud to your students and post it on your classroom walls. (Plus, as members of a representative democracy, they should practice the same principles they will apply as citizens.)
It’s getting easier to collaborate every day
The incredible growth of connective technology is helping to forge community and partnership among our students. Online applications such as Evernote and Google Apps for Education have made student partnerships and collaboration the norm rather than the exception.
The community-building aspect of this comes alive when students can work together on group tasks and problem-based learning activities. The underlying principle remains essential: by working as a community, students can accomplish far more together than they could alone.
Community lessons last a lifetime
Spend time thinking of what your students will need to know after they leave your classroom, and choose activities that will help address those needs now. By being a part of a caring community and helping your class work together as a group, you’re giving your students a transferable set of skills they will use in their later schooling, their work life and their future families.
The fulfillment of being part of a group will resonate through their lives, and you need to start working on that development now.
Competition and Collaboration Go Together
Too many people think “community” is code for no competition in a classroom. In reality, healthy competition — between equals, with fair rules and ample opportunity to excel — is crucial because our children are entering a world that requires them to compete not only with their fellow citizens, but with people around the world.
As the rest of the world catches up with America on the economic playing field, much of that success is due to the intricate and tightly woven teams found in international corporations. It’s OK to have competition, and it’s better to foster it in a community.
There’s more joy in a community
Being a part of something larger than yourself brings a sense of fulfillment and joy you can’t get by going it alone. The work of a community — mutual caring, working for a common goal and supporting each member — helps to create more joyful members who do their jobs with a sense of fulfillment that’s missing if they try to strike out in the world on their own.
Convey this to your students, and they’ll have a better experience in your classroom.