Build a classroom community

A positive, supportive student community is essential to successful risk-taking

Photo of Becky Leff
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Building a positive community in a class is essential to creating an environment where children feel comfortable enough to take the risks necessary for real innovation and creativity. We have used the Positive Discipline program, particularly weekly class meetings, to create a supportive, inclusive community. 


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Photo of Michael Schurr

Hi Becky, how are you? I think you are onto a great idea here and the comments below have really started to frame it out in more detail. We would love for you to share it in the ideate phase.

A couple of questions that might help frame out this idea:
What’s this idea about?
Why is this an idea that creates a culture of innovation?
How would you pitch this to other teachers in your school? Your principal?
How’d you get this idea off the ground?

Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or want to talk the idea out in more detail!

Photo of Becky Leff

Thanks, Michael! Here are my thoughts - your feedback would be welcome.
There can be no productive collaboration or innovation without a nonjudgmental, supportive environment. Many students will not share if they fear their ideas will be shot down. This is why building a positive, inclusive classroom community where all students feel comfortable bringing up problems and ideas is essential for nurturing the risk-taking inherent in innovation. An effective way to create this type of community is with regular class meetings. I have seen this in my class and my partner class over the past two years, using the Positive Discipline model.
Positive Discipline lays out a meeting plan, with lessons leading up to regular meetings. Students can bring up any problem or idea by putting it on the agenda, and students are empowered by the meeting structure and teacher guidance to work as a team to solve problems.
Ideally, meetings are held once a week for about 30 minutes, at the same time each week. Some teachers feel this is not a productive use of class time, but we have found that it builds a strong community in which students stick up for each other, and provides a place for children to "park" their issues, knowing that we will discuss them. They learn to listen to each other, which they then do when brainstorming and collaborating. They are respectful of each others' ideas and ways of expressing themselves.
Start this at the beginning of the school year to set the stage for everything you want to accomplish.

Photo of Michael Schurr

Becky, this is great! Would you be willing to take your thoughts and share them as a new post in the ideate phase?

Photo of Becky Leff

Yes, I will do that today. Thank you for the feedback - I wasn't sure exactly what to do with the idea.

Photo of Mangla Oza

I agree, classroom community is vital in helping create learning environments where students can take risks and innovate. I have a daily class meeting where students share about events in their life and give a positive affirmation to one of their peers. This helps break barriers between kids. I share about myself too so students see me as a person just like them. This helps create an open safe classroom culture and students are never scared to speak their minds.

Photo of David Harrington

How do the kids provide details about an event? Are they called upon? Do you go around the room? How long does it take? I like the idea of creating a safe environment. I just wonder how long it would take to do this daily. Great post.

Photo of Becky Leff

In my 4th grade classroom, we have meetings once a week, sitting in a circle. We start with compliments - everyone must give a compliment to someone else. Then we address problems that students have written on the agenda during the previous week. The person who posted the problem explains it briefly and stated whether he/she wants a solution or just to talk about it. Other students can offer their observations about the problem and then they need to suggest solutions. Usually one solution comes to the fore as the best, but sometimes they need to vote. Positive Discipline suggests 20 minutes for a meeting, but we usually go slightly longer. The combination of complimenting others - and it needs to be a personal compliment on something the students has done - and taking responsibility for solving their own problems has created a supportive community in my classroom. It's a different atmosphere than it was before we began having weekly meetings.

Photo of Rafael Perez-Segura

This is so important. Becky, I love how everyone must share a compliment about what somebody specifically did. I teach small groups in second grade along with push in special ed work. In addition to complimenting students and asking them about specific things in their lives, I have found keeping a gentle smile on my face, and recognizing when students build off each others ideas helps my students feel that it's okay to only kind of of know an answer. This helps them take risks. After the group has helped each other piece together an answer, they are many times eager to summarize since I get so excited about it myself when I do it in the beginning of the year "Guys, we're figuring it out!" This way, the encouragement is interwoven throughout the lessons (most of which run at most 30 minutes per group).

Photo of Mangla Oza

Hi David,
In my class I start with a morning circle and give kids an opportunity to share something about themselves at home or about school. At first some kids are not open to sharing, but as a couple weeks go by more and more want to share. They come to realize that some of the peers in the classroom have similar after school programs they go to, or they share the same favorite restaurant. The more they talk the more comfortable they become and are willing to ask questions to further clarify. I also share about my family and things I like to do. We have a very open classroom and students soon learn to appreciate each other. At the end of their sharing the students must compliment someone in the class. This is very hard at the beginning because they are not used to complimenting. But I make all students complement something about another student. Later on in the year this gets to specific compliments about writing, or solving math problems or a work of art.
It usually takes about 30 mins at the beginning of the day. Gets better as the year goes.
I noticed that this helps the shy kids come out of their shell. It also lets them see me the teacher as person they can relate too. Students in my class are very comfortable asking questions, disagreeing respectfully and working collaboratively. I even tell them if I am going to be out for family or conferences, so that they know how to help the substitute.