Sunday, August 18, 2019

Classroom Community Building


I recently presented at the Gulf Regional Innovative Teaching Conference that my school district puts on each summer. It is an amazing un-conference with many, many different instructional strategy sessions offered from coding to the dark web. I was honored to present four different sessions this year including a FONT class! My fave! With back to school festivities in full swing, I wanted to share some community building things that have worked in my classroom.


I found this idea from Sara Van Der Werf a few years ago and it immediately became my all time favorite way to get to know my students. The first year, I found my students were having a hard time coming up with comments on their own so I added questions for each day. I had them tell me their baseball walk-up song, what they looked for in a teacher, what they are passionate about (hello Genius Hour!), their strengths and ways we could use them, and what success would look like for them. Students answer the questions each day and I comment on them each night. You get to know so much about your students and it is a great way to connect their names to something you can remember. It does take a bit of time each night to write back to each student but is sooooo worth it! 




Team work is a BIG deal in my classroom. We work as a team in everything we do from math problem-solving to taking care of our space. So it is important to set that community and team vibe from the very first day. One of my favorite back to school team building activities is the cup stacking challenge. You may have done this before by just stacking the cups but this is a series of six challenges. They get progressively more difficult and my students love it! 

You can find the challenges from this website and I have linked directly to them at the end of the post! It is a great way to build community with very little prep. Another great activity is the 100 numbers task. I have used it for several years and it always shows students the expectation of what group work should look and feel like.


Yes! Classroom jobs in the middle school are amazing! Students love them and I love the ownership it gives to our classroom community. I love that my teacher assistant remembers to take attendance since I never do! 


Job applications are taken at the beginning of each quarter. Students can fill out the paper version or the Google Forms version. The application includes a section for them to explain why they would be an asset to the class at the position they are applying.  


When students enter the classroom, they grab their badge to wear during class and return it at the end. They take a lot of pride in their jobs! It really gives them a sense of belonging and purpose in our learning community. You need to have classroom jobs!


Having conferences with my students is one of my top priorities. I love the one-on-one interaction with them to really dig deep with their learning and how I can make instruction better for them. Even with these conferences, I found I was letting a couple of the perfect, quiet students slip by without my attention. To help me ensure I was reaching EVERY student I created a calendar and designated 4-5 students each block, each day that I made sure I spent time with. It was easy to look at right before the class started and to target those students. This helped me reach everyone and gave me another way to create connections with each of them.


Yes we gather like kinders on a carpet! Yes they love it! Yes we work out so many problems! Community meetings happen every couple of weeks or as needed. We discuss things like work ethic and taking care of our classroom when things aren't going quite the way we want. We take care of social and emotional needs. When students were scared of being deported or losing their family, we made it a safe space for them. Community meetings are so powerful and can serve such a big purpose in your classroom. The best 10 minutes you can invest in them!


Middle school students have needs! And it is our job to meet them. Even the small ones like being hot and needing a fan in our super hot classroom so you can do math!


This play table always has someone at it! Maybe they needed a brain break or they finished early, it was a space to create or solve riddles. I changed out the materials every week or two to keep it fresh. 


I did a post about my auction and paper plate awards here. Students earn "JRICH Dollars" for going above and beyond what is expected of them. At the end of each quarter, they use their dollars to bid on items at our auction. I have junk and my fave, Mountain Dew. I also give out Paper Plate Awards that are tailored to each student and the connection we made. You can read all about it here!


On Mondays, we do "One Good Thing" from the weekend or the week before. Students get a sticky note and write down something good. It could be anything from got new shoes to grandmother cooking their favorite meal. I wrote about this in detail here. It is the one small thing that really made a difference in knowing my students outside of school. From their one good thing I learned who played sports, who danced, who participated in tractor races or worked on cars with their family. It was a great way to invite every student's voice into the room on a Monday. They could share or they could say pass but every student spoke. 





Creating a positive classroom community is all about the little things you do to let your students know you care and love them! A growth chart so they can see how much taller they are than their teacher and how much they grow in the year. Positive words all over the room that let them know they matter and are welcome. Having supplies available so they can do math and not have to worry about a pencil! All the little things matter!

I hope you try some of these things to build a community or let me know the things I can steal from you that you already do! 

Everything can be found at the link below!