Community is a cornerstone of the classroom. You want your students to know immediately that you will be part of a class family that is safe, supportive, and welcoming. I have so many favorite ways to build a strong community starting from day one so be sure to save this post to refer to whenever you need it!
Why is it important?
When your classroom is a positive and inclusive space, it affects the well being of your students. Children should feel that their needs are capable of being met, empowered to take ownership of their learning, and excited to be around people who support and encourage them. Not only does a strong classroom community provide a sense of belonging, it also increases student participation and engagement.
Even deeper than these reasons, we know how scary some of our mental health stats as a society have gotten. “According to the Association for Children’s Mental Health (ACMH), one in five children and young adults has a diagnosable emotional, behavioral, or mental health disorder. One in ten young people has a mental health challenge that is severe enough to impact how they function.”
I believe we can combat this since we are working with future generations. We have more hours in front of them throughout the week than anyone else and we can make them count. When we provide them with a good, safe foundation, placing a big priority on our classroom community being one that supports all students, we can help boost their overall well being.
So now that we know the importance of building a strong community, let’s get into how to start it off from day one!
Rocking the First Week
The first week of school is one of the most crucial times of the year. You want to make it a memorable experience for you and your students! For me, I like to set a few easy goals. It will help you feel accomplished and not so overwhelmed and stressed because these are things we CAN control.
By the end of the first week, the most important goals to have met are:
- Learn everyone’s names
- Begin to build a strong classroom community through teamwork, discussions about values, and a safe welcoming environment
- Get to know each other
- Set up a strong foundation for classroom expectations and procedures
- Get everyone home safely
For students, you want them to be excited every day for the new school year ahead. You do that by showing them that their class is set up FOR them, introducing meaningful, yet exciting activities to get to know each other and their classroom, and making sure each student feels respected and valued. Read even more tips, like OVER planning and learning some amazing team building ideas to rock the first week here!
All About Me Bags are another great way to get to know students while involving their families. Students collect a few small items from home and put them in their bag. Throughout the week, students take turns sharing the items from their bag so that the class can get to know each other a little better. This activity is also a great time filler during that down time you may have that first week. Grab your FREEBIE below!
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Focus on Social Emotional Learning
Even though we know social emotional learning is super crucial to teaching, sometimes we may think students should just know these things naturally. We expect them to know how to navigate their emotions and social interactions in appropriate ways just because “they should know better”. But think about how we explicitly teach and model academics. Do we do the same thing for social skills too?
Some of my must teach social emotional learning includes kindness, communication, and regulation. Kindness is a HUGE part of a positive classroom community and it often becomes the fallback when students are struggling or need reminders. There are SO many great ways to help make kindness the norm. Get creative! For communication, conducting connection circles or class meetings from day one is a great way to begin to build that safe space for students and let them know that their voice is a valuable part of the classroom. Learn more about building in that time during your schedule HERE. Regulation helps students handle big emotions in a safe way. This can be done in a Chill Zone, Peace Place, or Calm Down Corner. No matter what you call it, it’s a designated space students can go and learn how to manage their feelings. I love this Calm Down Spot kit found HERE!
Focusing on these three skills will do wonders for your classroom community, classroom management, and your students will benefit in the long haul. We must teach our students about these topics and help them understand why it matters in, and outside, of the classroom. Take the time to act out scenarios and role-play. If you spend ample time at the beginning of the year practicing these skills, you will be amazed at how students are able to effectively communicate and solve their own problems.
Sometimes we’re not given the tools we need or not sure how to implement these values into our classrooms. I’ve got you covered though! Check out the growing bundle of engaging, hands-on, valuable tools, lessons, and resources to support your students, while they learn these important life skills, and more in a fun way! Because this is a growing bundle, when you purchase, you’ll get any new resource ever added for FREE! Grab yours below!
Establish Rules TOGETHER
Rules should be specific and easy for students to follow. For example, “Keep Your Hands and Feet to Yourself”. To make them even more meaningful and easy to follow, establish all your rules together! For primary grades, 3-5 rules is a good amount and you don’t really want more than 5. Students should know them and be able to read them.
At the beginning of the year, I like to think through what I want my rules to be. After I’ve come up with a general idea by myself, I then have my students “help” me develop the rules. It is important for students to feel like they helped create these rules because it is their classroom too. We may read books like, “What if Everybody Did That?” or “Volcano Mouth” to help us create our rules for our classroom. Typically my idea of rules stays the same from year to year, however with student input, they may shift a little.
Our discussion piece is the most essential part of creating the rules in your classroom. Asking students what is important to them and what they want their classroom to be really helps them think about what rules we need in order to create that environment. As we sit and dialogue, I chart their ideas and we highlight similar ones. After we have talked and charted multiple times, I then create from our list our 5 classroom rules. It’ll be presented to them in order to get their final input. If we all agree, then we all sign our rules for the classroom and they don’t change all year.
An added piece is to add in a classroom promise. Constructing a classroom promise is a great way to establish class norms, rules, and expectations. It is a living document that is often referred to and becomes part of our classroom culture. We note things that we value, such as kindness, respect, and positivity, we discuss its importance, and commit to upholding these values. We begin to document these ideas and themes as they come up in different discussions and read alouds.
Over the course of a few weeks, you will start to have a solid list of ideas and values that are important to your class. Eventually you’ll craft your classroom promise, revise as needed, and once everyone agrees and gets a chance to add anything else, everyone signs it, including you. It goes on display for the remainder of the year and in our classroom, I have a student lead the promise each morning as we read it together. Sometimes on days the students are struggling to listen or collaborate with one another, we discuss a value we want to focus on for the day. Take a look at some examples below.
You Are A Team
A classroom runs well when everyone is good at working together. Of course there will be problems, but that is why we explicitly teach them how to solve problems together. We must hold high expectations for how we work together. Ask yourself, ‘How are we a team?’ ‘What does that look and sound like?’
There are WONDERFUL books that you can use to learn why it’s important to be a team. One of my favorites to use is, Teamwork Isn’t My Thing and I Don’t Like to Share. We read this book together and discuss the importance of teamwork and why we should operate as a team. Then comes the fun part, team building activities! Below I’ve listed just a few of my favorites!
Cup Stacking – Who doesn’t love stacking up a bunch of cups? For this activity, students can be grouped in threes, fours, fives, or sixes. Each team is given 5 cups to work with. First, allow students to work together to just stack the cups to make one structure using their hands. Give them about 5 minutes then each group talks about how they worked together and what they made. Then they will complete the activity again. But this time, they are not allowed to use their hands to move the cups, only one rubber band and a string for each team member. Now they have to figure out how to work together and use the rubber band to move and stack the cups. Afterwards talk about the difference of being able to use their hands versus not and how they had to work together to get the cups stacked.
Back to School Charades – Provide the picture/word cards for students to act out, while the other students in the group have to try and guess the answer. This is a great way for students to get to know one another, problem solve, and improve verbal and nonverbal communication! You can have students play until each team has a certain number of points or simply set a time limit.
Rock, Paper, Scissors Championship – Everyone loves a good game of rock, paper, scissors! This is an exciting tournament style twist on this classic game! Students pair off to play a game of rock, paper, scissors. If they lose, they become a cheerleader to the person they lost to. The winner will then find another opponent with their cheerleader by their side. By the end, there will only be two players left, each with an awesome support group! This championship is such a fun way to cheer each other on and have a little competitive fun! It also provides so many valuable skills like learning how to support one another and being a good sport.
Check out more must know team building activities in THIS post!
Keep Your Community Strong All Year
Starting from day one building a strong classroom community is crucial! Just as important is keeping it at the forefront throughout the entire year. There will be times when things are going amazing for months, where other times are just hard for students to get connected back to each other. Some of those times are coming back into the classroom from long breaks, such as winter and spring break, as well as the end of the year when things are really hectic. Check out some activities catered to these times in THIS post for breaks and check out the End of Year Community Building Fun!
Remember to always come back to connecting during daily class meetings, holding space for big feelings with a calming corner and encouraging students to use it when needed, and ensuring your students are feeling heard, safe, and being kind. When these things are at the core, your community should stay strong all year long!
Other Topics to Help with a Strong Classroom Community
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