As a new school year is beginning and I’m setting up my classroom, I cannot help but think about the importance of setting up and establishing a strong classroom community. The classroom is a living thing: flexible, and always changing to meet the needs of the learners. The teacher and students are all learners in this space, learning from one another. In order to meet the needs of all those individuals, it is essential to create a warm and inviting classroom that accepts, encourages, and believes in the uniqueness of all learners.
I always like to begin the school year by getting to know more about the students and their families. They all come from various backgrounds, but their experiences help to shape their interests and the ways in which they like to learn. I learn a lot from the families every year because they impact my practice. I change and adapt my teaching style to connect with the students. In order to meet the needs of the students, I must understand their stories, their interests, and what motivates them. Understanding and connecting with their heart allows me to understand and connect with their brain. Setting up the classroom and planning instruction with the student’s hearts and minds at the forefront helps me to ensure the learning is culturally responsive. It is important for the students to see and hear the viewpoints of many others, and accept different opinions as well. Getting the students to listen and respect each other as unique individuals is HUGE! When the students are learning from each other and looking to their peers for help when problem-solving, then they have learned to accept and respect one another. The social and emotional curriculum and academics are equally important and carry equal weight.
In addition to communicating with the families, I enjoy playing games and community-builders with the students because they build and enrich their social and emotional skills. Social skills are just as important as the academic skills, and in order to educate the whole child, it is vital to educate the heart and the brain. When I play games and participate in community-builders with the students, it allows us to laugh and have fun with one another while it builds our classroom community.
As the school year starts for you, I’m left to wonder, how do you build your classroom community? What games do you play with your students to encourage laughter? In what ways do you gain information from the families in order to connect with students’ hearts and brains?