It's the beginning of the school year for most of us and we are back at it! After spending weeks thinking about the new school year, it's finally here! With a new class and group of students comes the massive job of building a posivite classroom community. With this comes the question, "How exactly do we go about this?"
    To that I would answer that there are several things that must be done when setting up a positive classroom community. To begin, yes I believe that setting clear expectations is key. It is important that students know there are specific guidelines and expectations in your classroom. I try to keep my expectations simple and overarching so that everything fits within it. My three expectations are: be responsible, be kind, and be safe. When I talk to students about these expectations, we talk about examples of each of them. This helps create a clear picture of what I mean by, "responsible", or "kind", or "safe".
     Setting up expectations is only part of building a community, however. For some reason I think we hyper-focus on the activities of classroom community building (and those activities are great; I certainly am not advocating against them), and forget what is at the heart of what we are trying to do: build relationships. A community should be one that cares for each other, but typically that is going to grow out of the relationships, and those relationships take time. So, while we work on all our community building activities, it's important to keep in mind that what we are really trying to do is develop relationships with our students, as well as help them build relationships with each other.
     As such, we need real, ample time to talk to and get to know our students. We need to hear what their interests are and who they are as unique individuals. I like to start talking to them on day one. As they work, I go around and check in with them and talk about their work, and then try to start a more personal conversation. After a few days of doing this, I have established a bridge of communication with each student and have learned at least one thing about them.
     It's also important to connect with students by opening up to them. Students love to hear about your personal life (also because it's hard for them to imagine that you have any life outside of school). You don't want to make it all about you, but you do want to open up and share interesting stories and tidbits so they can get to know you. Again, I try to do this whenever it seems fitting when I go around the classroom and speak with my students. However, this is important to maintain during the entirety of the school year. Find times and ways to share something about yourself, especially if it fits into something you are doing. Students get a glimpse of your life, and it helps them to know you as a person, not just a teacher.
    Lastly, students need time to get to know the other students. We can do this with icebreakers that help them begin to feel comfortable, but also learn about their peers. More than this, they need to be able to get to the heart of each other. I feel our turn and talks allow them to begin to actually hear, listen, and learn about each other. In addition, any partnerships can help promote deeper student-to-student connection, as can small group games and activities.
    To conclude, as we enter the new school year and begin to build our classroom communities, let's  keep the deeper meaning of what we're doing in mind: relationship building. This is the time to get to know our students, develop meaningful relationships, and let them know we care. Then and only then can true learning occur.


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