Sunday, September 22, 2013

Community~ The Foundation of a Classroom

Foundation of the Classroom~
I believe a positive  classroom community is the foundation of the learning. I believe learners who feel valued, respected and confident learn best. Students who feel valued and respected  are willing to work even when things are hard, they are wiling to think hard and to take risk, allow mistakes to happen, they think differently and they are problem solvers.  When students are listened to and their thoughts and ideas respected they are willing to listen and learn from others, they understand that thinking can change and everyone has voice in learning.

Be Careful What You Teach~
This year I have worked more intentionally to build community in our classroom. I understand my tone, gestures and words are being watched every second. I have and will continue to practice my patience (even in chaos and stressful conditions) because students are ALWAYS learning. I am modeling what I want my students to react and how I want our community to function.

Building Community~
Building and maintaining a community of learners doesn't happen naturally it has to be modeled, taught, practiced and discussed on an ongoing basis. Our day is structured to teach and support community throughout the day.

Building Community From the Start~
Each day in our classroom begins with a morning meeting. The start of our day together is signaled by a school wide reciting of the pledge of allegiance. After the pledge the music (a jaunty version of Disney's Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah) signals students to come together in a circle on the carpet. Morning meeting sets the tone for our day, I find I can't begin our day without morning meeting. Morning meeting allows us to come together as a class, greet each other, talk about our hopes for the day, share learning from home, play a community building game and share morning announcements.
Students learn to look at the speaker, speak in a voice that can be heard by all, respect the space and line of view of others, to have empathy and respect for others and  they begin to feel valued and respected. Morning Meeting is where we learn about the interest of others, how to work collaboratively and understand we all learn best together.

Throughout the Day~
Developing a learning community continues throughout the day. The structure of our classroom encourages collaboration, sharing and respect across day. We work together to establish the routines, procedures and expectations of our community. Students share what is working well and what needs modified then we work collectively to make adjustments. As the teacher I allow these changes to be made as the community suggests and I (almost) always find their solutions to creative and effective. Of course, because the class worked together to establish these new routines or procedures they are (almost) always followed and most DEFINITELY monitored by the students.

Teaching Kids to Work Together~
Our day is structured to encourage cooperation, but we can't expect 6 and 7 years old to know what cooperation is or how to work cooperatively without instruction and practice. So we worked together to develop a working understanding of cooperation. Our inquiry of cooperation began as the kids discussed what cooperation means to them. As the kids shared their thoughts I began recording on our  Frayer Model chart. After developing a common understanding of what cooperation is and what it is not we set out to practice working together to accomplish a specific task. We worked on various tasks by table groups. Once at least one group completed the task we began to reflect on the processes used by the group. What worked? What didn't work? What changes did your group make? How would you approach a similar task next time? We added our reflections to the chart.  Each day as we began a cooperative tasks we reviewed our chart and openly discussed our challenges and our successes.

Community Pays Off  ~

Classroom community is built with intention, practice, reflection and understanding. As teachers we have to be open to the perspectives of the children in our room. We have to understand their intentions are positive and work to understand their reasoning. I find very few (if any) actions are acted upon with negative intentions.
The comments between my students are heart warming and filled with empathy. I recently watched as a table group rallied around a team member who was being less than cooperative to make sure he was working with the group. Then as this group reflected with the class the student who struggled began to  honestly share  he had not worked with his group. The group quickly interrupted to remind him he had been helpful when he made 2 groups of 10. The smile on this boys face and his willingness to cooperate is all I need to know that this is time well spent and valued by our community. His uncooperativeness didn't come from anything more than a lack of understanding. Once his peers (not me) made his job clear he began to work with his peers in a productive manner. I was so proud of this young man and his peers my eyes filled with tears of pride.

Developing a community of learners who are in charge of their space and their learning has reduced the need of a classroom behavior system. I find that because the students feel valued, have choice and feel in control they are more involved in their learning and the learning of others. Of course the students in our class are 6 and 7 years old, we do have a few stumbles along the way. These troubles are dealt with by allowing the natural consequence to serve as the redirection.

Miss Night shared a post, Behaviour Management : not systems, but relationships where she explains her classroom system and offers us a challenge~
I know there are naysayers out there, who will find this all too nebulous, too airy-fairy and hippie-dippie to be manageable. I don’t have an answer for those people. For me, these 8 truths simply work. I don’t know if they will work for you, too. I would, however, challenge you to try just one of them. Re-define problematic behaviour. Find and change a pattern. Focus on your relationship with a challenging child. And then, please, come back here and let me know how it went.

Well, Miss Night this is my reflection on your "all too nebulous, too airy-fairy and hippie-dippie" style~

WE LOVE IT! I thank you and most importantly my class thanks you! 

I would love to hear about how you build community in your classroom, what changes do you see in your students when they are in charge of the room?

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