When building a learning community in your classroom it can be difficult to manage the amount of decisions and priorities that students require to be successful. We know that if classroom management is not established, learning cannot occur. However, managing behaviors and emotions is a daunting task on top of so many other priorities for teachers to consider. So where do you start?
These are six steps to constructing your learning community.
- Identify your values. I think of a classroom like a house. The foundation must be strong and unchanging. It must uphold the weight of everything else. This should consist of the values you want your students to uphold in your classroom community. It is the core of how everyone will interact with one another. It illuminates what is expected of them and what they should expect from everyone else in their community. These values will be the compass for everything you do in your classroom. This becomes similar to a class motto or golden rule that everyone invests in. Some examples may be “everyone deserves to be treated with respect” or “everyone has a right to learn in a safe community”. This value will be the source of all rules.
- Establish the actions (rules) that will uphold those values. If your values are the foundation of your house, your rules will be the frame or walls of your house. These walls uphold everything. Without this critical piece there can be no structure. Your rules bring your values to life. What should everyone commit to so that they can uphold the values of the learning community? These rules are in play during every activity, every day of the calendar year. They do not change and every student should know them by heart.
- Create routines and structures to communicate expectations consistently and ensure students are set up for success. Next is the floors that provide grounding to your students. Your floors should be solid and include the procedures for how to manage and interact within the learning community. This includes the expectations for voice levels and movement during various activities. It also includes procedures for transitions and gaining help during independent work. It should be memorialized visually and reviewed prior to every transition breeding consistent opportunities to reteach and explain expectations throughout the day.
- Develop shared goals and celebrations. Once your house is built, feel free to decorate. This is your opportunity to look around and make improvements. Identify where your class needs to grow collectively. Every class will be different and need differing goals to have a successful learning community. I like goal setting as a whole class, having students reflect on what may be getting in the way of learning. If students feel they are a part of identifying the goal, they will be more invested in the outcome. Also decide how you will measure success. It should be crystal clear with little to no room for interpretation. Students should understand exactly how it will look to meet the classroom goal. Students should also play a part in determining what the celebration will look like.
- Plan for what happens when students do not meet expectations. Homeowners require insurance when thing go wrong. There is comfort knowing there is a plan when life happens. There will be moments where students do not meet the expectations or uphold the values of your learning community. Do not wait to decide what you will do when that moment occurs. Consequences or limits should not be secret or surprising to students. They should know what will happen when they break a rule. This will also help keep emotionality in check as you will operate from a place of routine as opposed to anger or frustration. The student will also feel that the limits set ahead of time are not personal in nature and would be equally applied to every member of the community.
- Allow for restoration when someone in the community breaks a value. Every house holds a family. A true community has empathy, compassion, and care of thy neighbor. Students should feel that they are a part of their class even after they have made mistakes. Failure to follow expectations should contain limits and consequences, but should also consist of opportunities to re-engage with the community in a meaningful way. Students should be allowed to have conversations about their choices and be heard about why they did what they did. They should also be forgiven, accepted back, reminded of their worth in the community, and provided a roadmap for how to navigate similar challenges in the future.
Constructing a learning community is providing students, as well as yourself, with an environment that is safe. It is an atmosphere where everyone feels they can be accepted as they are. It is also a space where everyone can take risks and be celebrated for growth. It is the whole that is greater than the part. A community is something to be proud of, where contributions come in all shapes and sizes.