I believe that building a classroom community is one of the first and most important things a teacher needs to do to ensure that all their students succeed academically and have a positive school experience. But the teacher cannot build a classroom community alone. While much of the effort belongs to the teacher, and begins with the student-teacher relationship, the students must participate. Gloria Ladson-Billings entwined the relationship and the community building as seen in the following passage: “Larson-Billings…defined student-teacher relationships as one’s that are ‘fluid and equitable and extend beyond the classroom. [Culturally relevant teachers] demonstrate a connectedness with all their students and encourage that same connectedness between the students…Together, students and teachers need to build classroom community, making it a safe place in which to nurture everyone’s cultural identity” (Ladson-Billings, 1994, as cited in Brown-Jeffy, S.& Cooper, J.E. 2011, p. 78). Building a classroom community as a shared enterprise most effectively meets the needs and serves the identity of every student.
Key to a caring and effective student-teacher relationship is meeting each student where they are academically, but also socially and emotionally. Only in this way can education be equitable. Only with student equity can a classroom community truly serve all students. Also key to the relationships, and therefore the community, is the teacher getting to know and understand each student in terms of their academic needs, but also in terms of their culture, family, and community. Only in this way can every student feel seen, heard, known, and respected. If each student has such a relationship with their teacher, I believe that they will then be able to be a fully invested, committed, participating, and benefitting member of the classroom community.
In building the classroom community, I would ensure that it represents both collectivistic cultures (80% of the world) with their focus on relationships, cooperative learning, and interdependence, and individualistic cultures (20% including the US) with their focus on individual achievement and independence (Hammond, Z. 2015, p.25.).
I believe that this would benefit all students in addition to the inclusion of the specific cultures represented in the class. It is important that the classroom is student-centered - one in which all students are invested and in which they take ownership. In this case, the visuals of the classroom, as well as the class library would reflect the student make-up, interests, and needs, as well as multicultural books in general. In keeping with the diversity of the students, I will use a repertoire of inclusive teaching styles (e.g., constructivism, differentiation, universal design) to meet the diverse needs, learning styles, and cultural experiences of the students.
I would have a daily morning meeting first thing every morning, as well as a brief meeting at the end of each day. We will also have a free reading book club in which students who have read a given book from the reading area will gather for discussion and book recommendations. Students will also post book recommendations in the reading area when they particularly enjoy a book or find it especially meaningful.
In addition, I would have the students participate in the development of class rules and values, the daily schedule, the classroom layout, class rituals and celebrations, and rotating student leadership roles. These might include subject discussion leaders, subject support leaders (students having difficulty can seek help from a subject support leader before seeking help from the teacher), book club discussion leaders, transition leaders, morning meeting leaders. These rotating roles will reinforce the sense of ownership, and instill a sense of accountability among the students which will foster self-regulation, flexibility, trust, and open-mindedness. These traits will in turn serve the community.
Other recommendations include, first, having the students on the rug for lectures, as opposed to their desks. Second, in lieu of desks seating the students in tables of four which is helpful in fostering collaboration and student to student support. Third, at the beginning of every math class in which students partner and try to solve a math word problem together. This seems like a great way to both foster community and collaboration and ease into the math lesson. Fourth, routinely use turn and talk and small group work.
My goal in building a classroom community is one in which students and teachers share goals and experiences, where students feel safe and empowered enough to contribute, take academic risks, and fully participate. It is a place where students trust one another and their teacher. This will allow for teamwork, collaboration, negotiation, cooperation, and celebration as opposed to competition and exclusivity.
In building classroom community, I will follow Geneva Gay’s lead, and strive to create a place where “The child is the meaning maker and the teacher’s responsibility is to build structures and create strategies that help all children gather meaning from their surroundings” (Gay, G., 2020). We will strive to create a place where student meaning making is exalted, shared, and celebrated.