As a new year begins in preschool, at the top of your list of priorities needs to be building a sense of community in your classroom. Building a sense of community can begin from the very first day and will lead to greater success for each child and the way your classroom functions as a whole…
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I recently participated in the Bam Radio show titled “Quickly Creating a Sense of Community in the Classroom” along with Rae Pica, Sarah Brown Wessling, Ellen Booth Church, and Joan Young. Our discussion led to a great set of tips that I want to share with you on building community in the preschool classroom but first, take a minute to hop over and take a listen to what this amazing group of ladies have to share with you then be sure to come on back…
When I use the term “creating community”‘ I am referring to that sense of belonging, of being a member of our team, of being someone we value in our classroom. I am referring to the idea that every child has something amazing to offer and can make a difference in our classroom. I am referring to how the set-up and look of my classroom will make children feel. And I am referring to how I will help my students feel genuinely connected to each other, to the teachers, to the environment, and to the processes we explore throughout each day…
The teacher is the environment
But the big question of the day is “how do we create a sense of community?” In the Bam Radio show, Sarah explains that to create a sense of community, we need to actually consider not only our physical space but our “cognitive and emotional space.” Ellen goes on to add that “we want to see warmth and beauty in the classroom” and part of creating a sense of community is to remember that “the teacher is the environment.. the teacher creates that sense of community.”
There are many ways the teacher creates that sense of community. Ellen says that it is created through the “predictability of routine.” As children get more familiar with the routine and understand what they can expect to happen and what they are supposed to do in each part of their day, they feel less stress, less chaotic, and will be more emotionally prepared to handle and embrace each part of their day…
Ellen shares that building trust is also an important part of building community by doing simple things like “making eye contact and getting down on hands and knees.” Joan says, “What we can do to build trust and help children to feel comfortable putting themselves out there is critical. ”
Young children are extremely perceptive so it is important that you are genuine in all that you do. Be genuine as you are greeting a child at the door or listening to a child’s story about his morning or reading a story to a group of children or praising a child for the efforts he makes to accomplish a task.
- To be genuine, you must be fully present and engaged and approachable and interested in the things your students say and do.
- To be genuine, you must be responsive to the needs and interests and questions of your students.
Sarah says that it is important to “really respond carefully and thoughtfully to children’s work.” From the very first writing of a journal entry to a very first painting on an easel be sure to respond carefully and thoughtfully so that your students will get the signal that their work and contributions to the learning process has significance.
To help create the emotional and cognitive environment, you can look for ways to personalize your classroom. Ellen suggest “inviting families to send in photos of the children and their family members to post all around the classroom” will give children a sense of unity and help them feel connected to each other. Personalizing the classroom with children’s artwork and even their names can help to give children that critical sense of belonging.
Slow down and take the time to help your children understand what the expectations are in your classroom. Invite your students to participate in creating a set of expectations to abide by. Sarah offers this idea; “take photos of the kids modeling those expectations and place them throughout the classroom.” The more your students contribute their own ideas for setting expectations, the more responsive they will be in meeting and exceeding those expectations.
In the midst of children moving about and asking questions and picking up chairs that get knocked over, Ellen says to remember the “Power of the Pause.” Take a minute to “step back and observe your students.” Take a minute to “appreciate where your students are.” As you learn to hit the pause button and stop to observe and appreciate your students where they are right now in their development, understanding, readiness, or interests then you will be better able to tap into what will reach and motivate and inspire each of your students. And along the way, you will keep a healthier perspective as to what really matters.
Creating community is not a lesson, it’s a way of life
Finally, I want to share that creating community is not a lesson, it’s a way of life. Building a sense of caring for each other doesn’t happen by reading one book about friendship. Building a sense of belonging doesn’t happen by playing one game. Having that warmth and beauty in the classroom doesn’t happen by simply setting up a warm and beautiful environment. Instead, creating a sense of community is a year-long commitment made by you, modeled by you, and strengthened by you on a day by day basis. As you genuinely and lovingly invite students to be a part of everything you do in the classroom and help them find success, you will find that sense of community starting to come to life and when you do, it will bring you and your students new levels of confidence, joy, and excitement for being together and learning together.