Literacy and Numeracy

The Most Constructive Exercise for Building Classroom Community

What's a great way to begin building a classroom community with your learners?

The practice of building a classroom community is more than just about connecting with your students. Ultimately it’s about providing them with a sense of belonging and support. This begins on the first day in class and extends all the way through the year, ideally.

Community comes from the Latin communitatem which essentially means "fellowship." When you're part of something like this, you know it. It's in the smiles and words of the people you share it with, and in the collective ideas that grow and maintain it. You feel it every day all around you, and it brings you peace and security.

Perhaps you can recall a time in your childhood where knowing your neighbours were quite common, and regular visitors were the norm. Maybe you can remember a class or course you loved where everything between your peers and your teacher just "clicked." You may even have been part of a particular group of friends that made you feel safe and special, a group that remained together for a long time (and perhaps still does). That's what community is all about.

The keywords that define it are support, belonging, and safety. With all this in mind, what's a great way to begin building a classroom community with your learners? It begins with one simple but meaningful exercise: the classic "check-in."

Using the Check-in for Building Classroom Community

Check-ins are something that has been used in domestic and professional settings, well, since forever. It's not a new idea, but it is an effective one for unification through communication. The act of checking in keeps people connected, lets opinions be heard, and helps to solve problems and disputes. When it's adopted as a regular practice, it brings people together like nothing else can.

Educator Alex Shevrin Venet talks about her own experiences with the "rose and thorn" activity in this Edutopia article

"In this quick activity, students participate by sharing roses—something positive going on for a student that day—and thorns, which are negative, or at least less than positive. Students can choose their level of vulnerability: A rose can simply be 'the weather is nice today.' A low-stakes thorn might be 'I feel tired.' Yet many students choose to share more personal items: 'My rose is that even though I’m stressed out, I got all my homework done' or 'My thorn is that my dog is sick and I’m really worried about her.'

Alex is quick to point out that she herself also participates in this with her students by sharing things herself. It succeeds in building a classroom community by letting learners know that the teacher also has things to be happy and stressed about. In other words, it's a way of saying that "everybody's human here."

"Going around the classroom, each student states one rose and one thorn. I share mine too. The whole process takes five minutes or less. Yet though this fast activity may seem simple, the rose and thorn check-in is an essential part of my classroom community-building."

The Benefits of Checking In

Here are some of the benefits of using check-ins that Alex feels contribute to building classroom community:

  • Her learners come to realize that every voice matters.
  • They develop an awareness of others’ emotions and how to respond to them.
  • It increases their comfort with vulnerability.

Using check-ins in your classroom has other advantages, too. For one thing, they can fine-tune learners' communication skills and boost their self-confidence. Another thing check-ins are good for is improving productivity because students that are confident communicators can perform better. They also teach students how to give feedback when you allow them to respond constructively and empathetically to what is shared. 

So how do you facilitate check-ins in your class when using them for building the classroom community? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  • Keep a sense of order: make sure everyone gets a turn to share, but not randomly or all at once.
  • Let everyone be heard: no matter how many students are there, everyone should get a turn.
  • Listen actively: give the student full attention and let them share fully. You may have a time limit for each turn, so make sure to establish it before sharing begins.
  • Weather the storm: students may decide to get a little more personal than you expected. Ensure they know that if anything they want to share is too sensitive they can always see you after class or at another private time.
  • Welcome responses: if other learners have anything to add, allow them to share it briefly. 
  • Keep things proactive: the idea when building classroom community is to nurture a feeling of support for one another.
  • Get students' feedback and suggestions: ask them how they feel the check-ins are benefiting everyone, and how they could be even better. 

As for the components of check-ins, you can pick and choose from any number of questions or prompts to guide you. Below are suggestions you can add to your check-ins as you see fit.

  • Name one thing happening in your life right now that is positive.
  • Name one thing happening in your life right now that is negative.
  • In our work in class so far, what do you feel best about?
  • What is one thing you're struggling with in class?
  • Share a question you have about something.
  • Name one thing that brings you energy and joy.
  • What’s one new and interesting thing you’ve been thinking about lately?
  • State something you're very grateful for.
  • What do you want to accomplish for yourself today? For someone else?
  • What has changed for you since our last check-in?

The Best Tool for Building Classroom Community

If you want the perfect platform for your best community building all year long, Wabisabi is the answer. Using Wabisabi, learners share evidence of learning using media-rich online portfolios they build themselves. Not only that, Wabisabi offers commenting features and collaborative workspaces that were meant for engaging modern learners. Add real-time reporting against standards and connections to global classrooms and more, and you've got the perfect foundation for inspiring students to succeed together.