Beginning-of-the-Year Community Building Checklist: Top Tips for Building your Classroom Community

By Kira Hamann, in collaboration with Michael Vetere, Amy Garst, and Drs. Nancy Latham, Beth White, Kyle Miller, Sherry Sanden, and Alan Bates

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Welcome back to the ECE Teacher Talk blogging season, and welcome back to a new school year!  While many of our readers have been teaching in their classrooms for several weeks now, some are just getting started with students this week.  With beginning of year tasks, excitement, and work, sometimes it can be hard to attend to nuances of establishing our classroom community.  Is your classroom a community?

Yes! You have a community of learners in your room.  You, along with all of the little bodies in your room, constitute a live and functioning community.  In its 2009 position statement on developmentally appropriate practice, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) establish that “in developmentally appropriate practice, practitioners create and foster a “community of learners” that supports all children to develop and learn” (p. 16).

With the acknowledgement that you have a community is the recognition that it needs care and nurturance to grow and develop.  NAEYC provides key components to foster this community including making each member of the community feel valued, focusing on relationships, helping children develop self-regulation and responsibility, helping children in developing their own community rules for behavior, and ensuring that all members of the community feel psychologically safe, among others (NAEYC, 2009).  In this post, ISU ECE faculty bloggers chime in with support, sharing some of their top tips for establishing the foundations of your classroom community at the beginning of the school year.  Read through this checklist to see if you are meeting the basics.  Maybe this list will give you a new idea to try out.  These are all tried-and-true strategies that have worked for these educators, and they may work for you too!

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Do I know their names?

  • This may seem like a silly question, but underneath this lies quite a bit.  Do you know how to pronounce their names?  Are their names represented in the classroom—not their number—their name!  One of my own top tips as an early childhood educator and preparer of teachers is to know your students’ names and know them well!  Our names carry ownership, identity, and help us establish our overall sense of self.  Take it from someone whose name was often mispronounced as a child and even still as an adult—it stinks!
  • In these first few weeks, take the time to learn your students’ names and help them learn each others’ names through activities like name games and labels in the room.  The beginning of the year is a great time to do a project about our names, helping to build a community of learners and also address social studies, literacy, math, and arts standards.  Knowing each other’s names makes us all more invested in each other.  When I know someone’s name, I have an easier time introducing myself to him/ her, working together and problem-solving when issues come up over the year, and growing friendships.
  • Having a plan to say hello to each child with their name every day in some way (hug, high-five, or handshake was my pre-k policy for the start of the day) can do wonders for making each child feel the 4 Cs (connected, capable, that they count, and have courage), and these 4 Cs working together can bring about behavior that helps build your community in very positive ways!  Learn more about meeting your students’ 4 Cs in the classroom in a future post from me!
  • [This is from Kira Hamann, instructional assistant professor at ISU, doctoral student, past PreK teacher in the Chicago Public Schools.  Read more from Kira’s past posts here and here.]

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Have I gotten to know each one of my students?

  • “Let kids share about themselves in lots of different ways—what they like and dislike, what they’re interested in” from Dr. Alan Bates, associate professor of ECE at ISU. [Read a past post of his here.]
  • “One thing I always did was to have my students all share a “Me Bag.”  I shared mine on the first day of school as an example and to introduce myself and then for homework the first night, they would all make a bag of their own.  I sent a brown paper bag home with each child with a note explaining the instructions to the parents.  Each child could fill the bag with things about them and then bring it to school to share with their friends.  Kids get so excited to share their favorite toys, pictures of their pets and families and other things that are special to them.  I had 4-5 kids share their bags per day and had all the kids share by the end of the first week of school.  It was a great way to help the kids make connections to each other.  So many times, I remember hearing kids say things like, “I love soccer too,” or “my brother is in 3rd grade too.”   These connections help the kids to feel connected to one another and help to create a sense of community” from Amy Garst, an instructional assistant professor of ECE at ISU. [We welcome Amy as a new guest blogger this year.  Look for a post from her soon!]
  • “One of the best ways to create a community of learners is to establish an ensemble of students who are ready to work together through commonalities and favorite material.  Engage your students in drama activities that allow the students to naturally find similarities and connections with each other.  Play an activity like “Change Places” to provide students an opportunity to physically move around the room while discovering what the students have in common” from Michael Vetere, an associate professor in the School of Theater and Dance, who teaches ECE courses at ISU.  [You can read some of Michael’s past posts here, here, and here.]
  • Has your school year already started?  It’s never too late to send home a “Me Bag” to be created or to think about your ensemble!

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Is my room set-up to facilitate a smoothly-functioning community?

  • “Is your environment set up to facilitate collaboration and encourage community?  Or instead is it set up so children work as silos?”  This question is posed to you from Dr. Nancy Latham, a professor in the ECE program at ISU.  [You can read a past post of hers here.]
  • Think about where workspaces are positioned.  Think about material use.  Is the room arranged so that students are encouraged to have conversations and work together?  Are there spaces for individual work and for collaborative work?  Think about the environment as the other teacher in your classroom.  What is it teaching kids about how to interact with each other, how to behave, how to learn?  Are materials accessible for students’ independence use?
  • “From my literacy perspective, I like to establish from Day 1 that our classroom community comes together around books and reading.  Entering a space that is literacy-rich and jumping right into read-alouds and other interactive literacy activities sets the stage for a year of literacy learning as a purposeful, joyful, collaborative adventure” from Dr. Sherry Sanden, an assistant professor in the ECE program at ISU.  [You can check out past posts of hers here, here, and here.]

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Have I welcomed the whole child, including each child’s family?

  • “At the beginning of the year, welcome the whole child—this also means who they are as a part of their family” from Dr. Kyle Miller, an assistant professor in the ECE and ELE programs at ISU. [You can check out her past posts herehere, here, and here.]
  • Dr. Beth White, an assistant professor in ECE at ISU, advises to “plan to welcome every parent individually.  The first meeting is the most important because it is always positive.  Establishing this partnership early on can help.”  [You can check out a past post of hers here.]
  • Both recommend that you do this before and after hours, going to students’ homes if need be, making phone calls–anything to reach your students’ families!  This can work wonders for making everyone feel welcome in your classroom.

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Have I made my guidelines and expectations clear?

  • It is all too easy to just expect children to know what to do and how to act when they come to school.  Yet, we do them and ourselves a great disservice if we don’t make these guidelines and expectations clear from the start.  Think about how you can make this clear for all aspects of the day…
  • Is your daily schedule posted so that you and children know what to expect throughout the day?  As an adult, I am betting that you like having an agenda/ plan for your day, and so do your students!  Check out some of these images here for ideas to get this started if you don’t have your daily schedule posted yet.
  • Have I thought through routines and behaviors of my students’ day and made these clear through posted guidelines?  Guidelines for how to walk in line, how to do turn and talks, what to do during a fire drill, how to fix mistakes, how to use the listening center–all of these help to make our community run more smoothly by reminding students and you of what to do.  These expectations become a shared part of the community when they are taught, practiced, and posted for reference.  In my own practice, I found that I created guidelines out of necessity more often than not.  When there was an issue, we needed guidelines to teach and re-teach skills.  Think about whether posted guidelines might help your new students learn the behaviors of your classroom more easily. [another from Kira]

This is a short list to get your wheels turning.  You most likely have already completed this checklist or maybe you’re in the process of completing it.  Regardless of whether you’re just starting your year with students or if you’ve been there a few weeks, the items on this checklist help to establish a community of learners in your room.  If you do this, will your community run without issues?

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Yet, by addressing this checklist, you’re setting yourself up for a solid foundation from the start of the school year.  Hopefully this list has you thinking about your own classroom community.  There are countless ways to establish this foundation, and these ideas from bloggers of our site hopefully add to your repertoire.  Look for posts from all of these bloggers coming up throughout this school year.  Also, be sure to add your top tip for building classroom community by leaving a comment at the top of this post.  Happy new school year to all of you!

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References

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/PSDAP.pdf

 

 

 

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One thought on “Beginning-of-the-Year Community Building Checklist: Top Tips for Building your Classroom Community

  1. kiraannhamann September 10, 2015 at 3:01 pm Reply

    Here’s a quick tip from Dr. Amanda Quesenberry: “My advice would be to spend time (a minute or two) having a genuine conversation with every child- not related to school stuff, but rather to talk about life, to get to know them better.

    I would also recommend making a call or some kind of personal connection with every child’s parent in the first few weeks of school.”

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