Why Should We Work So Hard to Build Community?
Building community beginning on the first days helps to create new relationships and strong bonds that will last throughout the year. Creating a shared vision of the expectations, developing a common understanding of classroom limits, and fostering a love of learning are only a few of the characteristics you might have in mind as desired outcomes. Ultimately, achieving mutual respect and a spirit of collaboration creates an ideal working environment for the classroom.
When community exists, each child feels valued. A sense of shared purpose unites the group and working together to accomplish goals becomes a priority. Our goals are BIG and require the effort of all of our members. The uniqueness that each student provides as a member of the community must be valued and each individual strength will make the community stronger and better. As children develop a sense of duty to the community, self-discipline is likely to emerge more naturally and from the child’s (intrinsic) motivation rather than from external or reward-based methods (extrinsic).
Early in the year, creating purpose in the child’s movement and activity is desired and we balance the freedoms offered within the environment, the needs of the young child to move, and the constraints of the environment. Providing structures and routines will help to create order as well as ensure a safe environment for your children. A strong sense of community is one of the most effective ways to teach how to use individual freedoms.
How do we build community?
We play games and have fun together. We share lunch and work with each other, mixing-up our groups with an emphasis on getting to know new friends. We interview and find out more about each other by sharing experiences, stories, traditions, and the accomplishments we are proud to have achieved. We make time to appreciate each other and learn how to recognize others, as well as ourselves.
In our community, we learn to problem solve, developing the skills necessary to take care of ourselves and others. When solutions are found and conflicts resolved with little or no direction or intervention by an adult, students feel great pride! Creating a class agreed-upon list of rights and responsibilities with the students allows them to partner in holding others accountable and enforcing your shared vision of community.
Grace and courtesy work also play a role in learning how to act in a community. A firm handshake and smile in the morning set a respectful tone for the day. Allowing students to have the role of a “class greeter” is a great way to have students serve in a leadership role as they create personal and inviting welcomes to the community. Practicing how to greet visitors with a cup of tea and a special chair or preparing a class snack are other ways students can assume responsibility. Modeling ways to ask for help, challenge other student’s ideas and even how to say “no thank you” respectfully are tools your students will need to have in order to work effectively in their community.
A natural extension of building community within our classrooms is to reach outward. The work that starts within our classroom might find opportunities in other areas within the school. Participating in the work of the larger community helps the students feel proud and invested. Students experience, on a small scale but in a real way, that they can create change. We can act individually or as a group – and we DO make a difference!
Specific Ideas to try at the beginning of the year might include:
- Toss a ball in a group to help learn names
- Learn a favorite food of a new friend
- Create a scavenger hunt in the room to learn a new environment
- Share with a friend something you like about yourself
- Work together to line up without talking
- Offer lessons on classroom jobs
- Provide lessons and model grace and courtesy
- Make a list of “Classroom Rights and Responsibilities” WITH your students and have them initial or sign
- Have a procedure or place in the classroom for resolving conflicts –create a “Peace Table” or “Peace Corner”