Creating a classroom community that is safe and values all ideas has not always been an easy task. When I first began teaching, I had a lot of difficulty with helping my students to understand how to effectively communicate with each other and be good listeners. In nearly every single class, my students would talk over me as I attempted to give directions, or talk over each other when having class discussions or presentations.
Though I still have this struggle with my students now, as I have grown more comfortable in my position as a leader and mentor in the room, we have been able to grow together as a community. One specific way that I have tried to help my students grow has been to structure lessons in such a way so that they have time to talk in small groups, time to discuss as a whole class, time to share with the whole class, and time to write silently. I remind them that there are distinct times for talking and for listening, and also recognize and thank them for being good listeners when they are listening. For an example of one of my lesson plans structured with both silent writing time and time to share with the whole class, click here.
Another way that I am attempting to help build a strong classroom community is by creating authentic projects that allow my students to have real-world experiences and work together as a team. For the poetry unit that we are currently working on, my students are creating an 8th Grade class poetry anthology, which will be published and printed by a local printing company. This anthology will contain an original poem from each of the 8th grade students, as well as original illustrations from students. Each student has had the opportunity to be peer-editors, and will have the opportunity to copy-edit and help with layout. The students are also working together to organize a bake sale, which will raise money for the printing costs. At the end, each student will be able to take home one copy of the anthology, and we will have copies left over to donate to the school and the Worcester Public Library (as per the students’ request!).
One other key feature that has helped shape our classroom community has been the Mindful Minute. Originally started as an effort across the whole middle school to increase mindfulness in the classrooms, my students and I have had an interesting journey as we have been incorporating the Mindful Minute into our classroom. You can read more about the Mindful Minute here.