Where I teach, the climate and culture of our building is truly family-like. Classes have either daily or weekly Community Meetings where ideas are shared, problems are discussed and solved, and appreciations are made. We foster the idea that we are all one community or family, and we need to take care of each other. We continually refer to this community idea throughout the day, whether when working through class-wide issues or when working through individual issues.
For example, when a child is loud or disruptive, one of the questions we may ask her individually is, “How do you think your actions may be affecting your community members?” We want the students to move beyond just thinking about their individual needs and also think about the needs of the community.
Another specific example to demonstrate the power of community is demonstrated through “Phil’s” story. I had a student years ago who would continually get in trouble in gym class, which would affect the score that the class received. Every gym class, the class would get a score of 0 – 5, based on their collective, collaborative behavior. When someone continually got in trouble, that score would go down. At the time, I had a classroom marble jar, so if the students earned a four or five, they would get that many marbles in the jar. When the jar was full, we earned a reward. We did not put marbles in for a three or less, as it was not reflective of their personal best.
After weeks of students being frustrated, we called a Community Meeting to discuss the problem. During the meeting, the students used “I statements” to let this lstudent know how they felt about their continual low score in gym due to his behavior choices. I heard things like:
“I feel frustrated when we all work hard, but our score goes down because you’re goofing off.”
“I feel sad that you don’t seem to want to help us get a five at gym class.”
“I feel confused because I know you can make better choices.”
Keep in mind… these were 8-, 9-, and 10-year olds. They were not allowed to say anything negative about him… just tell him how they felt. He also had a chance to speak; although, he opted not to. We then went around our circle, and everyone brainstormed ideas of how we could help him in gym. We came up with a plan, he agreed to it, and wouldn’t you know that his behavior in gym improved dramatically! Rarely did he get in trouble.
He saw how he was affecting his community, as well as how supportive his community was being to him despite the fact they were frustrated with him. He realized he was part of something bigger, and it wasn’t just about himself, so he made a decision to make a change for the positive.
Establishing a Classroom Community can not only help prepare students to be strong, contributing community members when they are adults, but it can help them begin seeing beyond their “self” lense. It can help build their understanding that they are part of something bigger, and their individual choices can impact others, both positively and negatively! This, of course, can improve the overall culture of a classroom.