PBS in the Classroom

Strategies to Create a Community in Your Classroom

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The Arthur theme song says it all: “You can learn to work and play and get along with each other.” Building a classroom community is a process with huge benefits for students and teachers. Last week one of my students brought me a picture she had drawn at home. Smiling ear to ear, she handed the folded paper to me. The picture is a beautiful rainbow with smiling boys and girls standing underneath it. Across the top it read,  “This hole intire class is like a family.” I couldn't help but smile right back. This year, my goal was to build a first grade community of learners. I knew I wanted to include social emotional learning across the curriculum and throughout the day, to help create a place where my students would feel safe to make a mistake and share ideas.  

Here are successful strategies we used this year to build classroom community.

10 Ideas to Share with Fellow Educators
  1. Have a class meeting to define “What is a community?” My class decided a community of learners is a group of students who all want to help each other learn and grow together.
  2. Include the class in establishing your classroom rules. Our only rule is: “We are all friends.” That rule has covered everything from sharing pencils to arguments on the playground. Would a friend take your ball at recess?
  3. Start positive. Each morning, I meet my class at the door and say: “It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!” The class responds: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!” Then,  we give each other high fives. Any day that starts like that is going to be a great day!
  4. I call my students friends instead of boys and girls. After the first week of school,  they started calling each other friend, too. I have a sign in my room that reads: “A community of friends can do hard things.” We can do hard things!
  5. My students each have classroom jobs that change each week. Each job is important to our community, We have sEd techs, librarians, lunch basket carriers,  paper passers, and other assignments. This helps my students know and understand that they are an important part of our classroom community.
  6. Use classroom technology to help build relationships. We use PBS ScratchJr to write and code stories about the strategies we use to solve conflicts with friends. Students also use our tablets to take pictures of each other with their friends. The kids love looking at the pictures they take.
  7. Group STEM projects are a great way to build community. I recently challenged my class to work together to build a roller coaster out of paper plates, cups and tinfoil. The roller coasters and the conversations were amazing!
  8. Create opportunities for students to share  how they feel about each other. I asked student to write their names at the top of a piece of paper. Students then walked around the room and wrote a sentence or two on each paper. I made sure to add a sentence or two myself.  Students smiled and laughed as they read their own papers. I put them in the hall for the larger school community to see.
  9. Invite community members into your classroom. This year, we celebrated neighbor day by inviting the Mayor of our town to visit. He told the students about what it was like to be the Mayor and, more relevant to them, what he did when he was six-years-old.  
  10. PBS LearningMedia is a great resource for Arthur and community building resources. To help your class learn and grow together in harmony, be sure to check out Arthur’s Around the Block activities.

The stronger the community, the fewer conflicts we have. The picture has a special place on my bulletin board, and this class is like a “hole intire” family for me too. We can all learn a lesson from Arthur when he shares: “Get together and make things better by working together!” Happy Community Building!

Michelle Garmon

Michelle Garmon First Grade Teacher and PBS Digital Innovator All-Star Twitter: @kindergarmon

Student Greeters welcome visitors to Michelle’s first grade classroom with a cheerful “Hello neighbor!” “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” is stenciled above the smartboard. Michelle’s goal is to instill the same developmentally appropriate positive learning experience she had growing up into her class of 21st century learners. She lovingly meets this goal using technology. Her students’ code during math, research using tablets, use voice to text to tell stories, and Chromebooks help bring the whole world into room 108. Michelle’s class also meets via video chat monthly with fellow All-star Julie Hildebrand’s first grade class in Austin, Texas for fun hands-on science lessons. Michelle believes that digital citizenship should be taught as a foundational skill along with reading, writing, and arithmetic.

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