What makes a Community?

A few weeks ago on the first day of vacation and what was I doing? Writing a blog piece. I have said, when asked, why I don’t write a weekly blog (or even monthly sometimes)…I won’t write just to write or just to have something to post. But as I found myself relaxing, not checking emails and texts at a frantic pace, thoughts come to mind. So yes, there I was writing a blog piece on the first day of vacation. 

My mind has naturally turned to the upcoming start of school. I am slowly checking off what needs to be done to have what I hope will be a smooth start (https://edtechease.com/2020/02/02/smooth-start/) Having just finished a Responsive Classroom course and discussing writing with teachers through a book study, I keep coming back to one question, What makes a community? Another question could be, what elements make a community successful? 

Building relationships with your class is key to a ‘good school year.’ Everyone says so! Setting expectations and teaching behaviors that will lead to those expectations is another key. Everyone says so! But year after year, teachers I speak to have every intention to build those relationships, set those expectations but 2 weeks in and our inner voice (maybe your admin’s or parents’ actual voices) say get to work on curriculum. Well, let one admin say to you, slow down and you will get to more content and see more student growth if you build your community and expectations.

You may have noticed that I have combined community and expectations. That relates to my earlier second question, What elements make a community successful? I think setting expectations is one of those elements. If your students, and yourself, understand what is expected then you are starting out from a common point of view. When you calmly and succinctly voice your expectations then you have set the foundation for building on those expectations. Your students won’t need to guess each day or each class what they are expected to do when you begin a writing workshop. Or when literature groups start. You have already explained or even modeled what they are expected to bring to the lesson or have opened. This allows your learning community to be effective for you as the teacher and for them as learners. 

Building an effective community for learning also requires laying the foundation for collaboration and communication. If you are fine with students yelling ‘hey you’ when they want your attention then tell them that. Find out and let students voice how they would like to be addressed (some students can’t wait too ditch their nicknames, maybe this is the year). When you want to pair students or work in small groups, how will this look in your classroom. How will this be done with respect to the quieter students or the new students? When working together how will students express their opinions or criticize each other’s work? Formulate an anchor chart of sentence starters: ‘I see your point, what about …’ ‘Earlier you mentioned … but I don’t see that in your response.’ ‘Mrs. W suggested we use post-its to write our ideas, let me get some.’ Creating a safe environment for collaboration creates a safe and effective learning community.

Finally, my pet peeve, keeping an organized environment. What does this have to do with community? If everyone (teacher, student, substitute) knows where materials are and can actually find them in that place then the classroom runs smoother. Also helps our less organized students have a strategy for keeping their materials accessible. When our environment is clean, organized, functional then there are less divisive elements to undermine the class community. This is less about labeling everything in the classroom than modeling where you expect materials to be throughout the day. When students can independently find their own materials for lessons or to take home then the community functions effectively. 

Your learning community will be strengthened by the positive relationships that setting expectations will develop. So, take the time to set your expectations, create them with the class and watch the learning grow!

Share with your community building ideas via Twitter or Instagram (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/). Want me to lead a discussion about this topic or Literature Lassos for the start of the school year? Email me, swladis@edtechease.com.