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Creating a REAL Classroom Community

In college, I learned all about the importance of creating a community in the classroom.  My professors went on and on about how important it is to make emotional connections with our students.  We need our students to feel safe and connected, as if they are a part of something greater than themselves.  It all sounded a little hokey to me, but I tried it.  Each year, I focus on building a family atmosphere in the classroom.  I have a motto I use, “We’re a family, and families take care of each other.”  I reference it throughout the year.  I talk about how even families have problems, but they work through them together.  However, every year, I feel as though the class doesn’t feel like a real family.  So, what’s wrong?  What am I not doing?  Or is the idea of building a true community in the classroom just a utopian dream?

Today in Humanities class, I felt as though a real classroom family started to take form.  We continued working on discussing the eight social identifiers before the students each created their own social identity wheel piece.  During our discussion, one of the students shared an intensely personal piece of information with the class.  There was no laughter or giggling.  The boys seemed to accept this information and the student.  As what he shared made him incredibly vulnerable, I did explain to the students how when we discuss the deeper, more private parts of our personality, very serious and personal things may be shared.  This is great.  We want to create a genuine sense of community within the classroom.  Being open and honest with each other can foster this.  However, we do need to remember that these personal tidbits are just that, personal, and need to stay within our community.  We don’t share what is discussed in the classroom.  I wanted the student who had shared to feel respected.  The boys seemed to really understand this.  It was amazing.

So, then my question is, how is this closeness and community happening?  Why have we not been able to bring about such feelings and dedication in past years?  Is it that the discussion of social identifiers, opened the students up to feeling willing to share?  Is what is happening so far this year because we have a smaller group of students?  Or is it because of the certain individuals that we have?  Is it that the chemistry of the class is just working out?  Well, then what about last year?  We had a great group last year as well?  Why didn’t they feel as connected?  What is it about this group?

Regardless of the reasons, what we are beginning to see take shape in the sixth grade classroom is quite amazing.  I’m excited for the great year that we’re sure to have.  Yes, of course, there will be bumps in the road, but we’ll weather the storms together, as a family.  If the start of the year is any indication of what is to come, we’ve only just begun to build a REAL community in our classroom.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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