My first years of teaching, I will honestly say that building a classroom community did not make my to-do list.
That isn’t to say my classes were miserable. I still treasure relationships and stay in contact with students from those early years. A culture existed, but I did not conscientiously cultivate it.
I felt classroom management, meeting standards, and surviving personally needed my focus. Those first years can be brutal for a teacher. While reflecting years later, I often think that many of those problems I wanted to prevent would have lessened with more of a classroom community.
Ten years into teaching, I build a classroom community with purpose. Here are four goals I want to achieve in my high school classroom, and how I implement them to build classroom community.
One: Bullying. I take a hard stance with bullying. My message to students: everyone is different, not everyone has to like everyone, but we all must be respectful.
I’ve found that outlining my expectations and providing examples establishes the non-bullying classroom community. When I see mean or excluding behavior, I say something. High school students have a very sneaky way of bullying. It’s normally followed by, “I was just kidding” or “so-and-so knows I’m just joking.” I address this with the speaker so that others know I take bullying seriously. Plus, I’ve already given an example, and I can relate back to that.
Part of building a classroom community where students feel safe is to address bullying every time.
Two: Gossiping. I don’t gossip with students. I think the stereotypical high school teachers who knows who is dating, who went to a party is being put to rest. (Thankfully). Still, I take extra precaution not to gossip about my coworkers (or anything that could be construed that way) or other students. Part of feeling safe in a classroom is not worrying that the teacher talks about you to others.
If students try to engage me in gossip, I say something like, “I don’t like it when people talk about me, so I don’t talk about others.” Often, the modeling you give students provides the expectation, and this will build your classroom community.
Three: Kindness: Sure, this includes not cheating, not criticizing answers or ideas, but I make it a bit more. I define kindness as simply extending courtesy and care to others, but it should include social niceties.
“Being on” is the hardest part of teaching for me. Extending grace, kindness – while teaching and modeling? Exhausting. Still, modeling this kindness builds a classroom community.
Sometimes I worry that I go over the top, but then I remember: some students have no model of kindness at home. I’m the model.
Four: Dedicated to learning. I’ve found this to be the most difficult trait of classroom community to establish. Older students enter the room with at least nine years of schooling experience, messages from media and home, and semi-established beliefs. I honestly feel that with high school students, teachers have only a few moments to show their students that learning can lead to a greater life.
I stress that I love to learn, that it is ok not to know everything, and that learning is a never-ending process. I show students how I work through difficult concepts.
Still, older students have to get over their “coolness” that protects them in the world of high school. Make it the norm. Everyone owns their learning – learning and experimenting is the norm in your classroom. Students want to belong and if that is the standard, they will strive for it.
By the end of the semester, I want to be able to say to each class:
You are my kids, and I know that you know we behave in a certain way.
My students know what that means. I’ve provided examples, correct behavior, and modeled expectations for a strong classroom community.
So? You can do this too. Think of three or four traits you would like to see in your classroom. Feel free to steal mine. Then, think of ways to establish them – simple and practical ways. You’ll be on the road to building a classroom community with high school students and in the process, bettering your classroom management.