“Great classrooms are characterized by positive, open relationships, mutual respect, and a shared responsibility for the learning process.”- Robert John Meehan
School tragedies occur way too often nowadays. Often we find the students at the center of these tragedies didn’t feel they fit in. I know a bigger issue lies in dealing with mental health, but I also know too many classrooms do not help their students build relationships with each other and the teacher. Relationship building is an ongoing process. It means taking the time to engage all students in fun activities where students get to know each other. It also means pairing and grouping students effectively to accomplish meaningful activities where they can appreciate each other’s skills.
In my classes we do this by doing the following:
- Several fun get-to-know you activities
- Regular online discussions and backchannel chats
- Cooperative Learning activities such as expert groups and the Frayer model of students teaching each other
- Peer feedback and evaluation of each other’s work
- Publishing student work and getting them to comment on each other
- Ongoing community activities in our online classroom to support the community building activities in our physical classroom
- Effective pair work and group work
I tell my students at the beginning of the year we are a community and not a classroom. I also tell them that chances are they won’t succeed in college without friends and peers who support them and motivate them when it gets tough and it will get tough. This past week in my students’ journals several wrote about the friends they meet with and study with in our English class. I was so happy to read this, because I know that the effort to build a community is working.
Building a community and working on relationships is the “extra” I do. It isn’t part of my curriculum and not many professors take the time to do this. I feel it’s important and I’ve seen struggling learners exceed time and time again because they have the support of their peers. Part of the learning journey is ensuring our students have the support they need. I’m one teacher with hundreds of students each year. There is no way I can provide each the support and feedback to help them throughout their journey. If my learners can help each other then they have helped me be a much better teacher.
In my blog and in my books I continually share lessons, templates, activities, and resources to help you transform your classes into communities. Make it a goal to make room for relationship building. Cyberbulling and bullying has definitely impacted our learners. It’s time every student no longer feels alone.
Get your copy of Hacking Digital Learning, The 30 Goals Challenge, or Learning to Go. Ask me about training your teachers, ShellyTerrell@gmail.com!