Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Linda's Lessons - Creating a Learning Community

Every year, as the new school term began, one of my main goals was creating a community of learners where all of my students felt completely safe and free to take risks.  The first step towards this goal consisted of having no more than five classroom rules that were positively stated and composed with the class on the first day. We always discussed the reasons for the rules and even modeled how each one looked, and did not look, in class. By discussing the rationale for each rule they made more sense, and the children were more apt to buy into following them. We often revisited them together throughout the year. Included with the rules were a system of rewards and consequences.  It was vital in creating an environment of fairness that I consistently enforced the rules and rewarded and reprimanded fairly. 

I had a few guidelines that I followed in my classroom that I verbalized to the students:

#1: I never disciplined a student solely based upon what another child told me. I had to see it with my eyes and hear it with my ears. If students were being bullied behind my back (as is usually the case), I let everyone know that I would be watching, listening, and investigating. I would NEVER simply dismiss what a student told me, but I would only reprimand when I had the absolute proof. This often took lots of questioning other students privately. 

#2: I made it clear, when going over the rules, that I would never tolerate any student being shamed, embarrassed, humiliated, or being made to feel guilty for anything - by other students….or by me. I emphasized that this behavior would never be appropriate in my class or at any time. Children needed to hear that it was fine to make mistakes because everyone made mistakes, including me.

#3: It was important to me to make it clear to students who had experienced a rough morning that they still had a chance to have a great afternoon. Students needed to know that misbehavior did not mean I did not like them. I would often speak privately to them about why I was reprimanding and have them verbalize it to me. They usually were able to tell me the reason for the consequence. Many times I would also ask if this meant I did not like them. Occasionally, they gave me a blank stare in return, as if they did not know. I then had to state that no matter what they had done, I would ALWAYS like them.  This was why I had to discipline them, because I cared about them.  Many of my students never had heard that at home. 

#4: I found that by acknowledging the behaviors of positive role models, more students would exhibit appropriate classroom behaviors. It also helped keep the classroom emphasis on positive rather than negative behaviors and aided in creating a happy environment.

#5: Finally, it was imperative that along with consequences, I utilized my own system of rewarding students who had followed the rules. In the beginning of the year I rewarded often, along with consistently enforcing the rules. I used many rewards: prize boxes, lollipops, educational games at the end of the day on Friday, and lunch with the teacher. Across the board, all of my students LOVED having lunch with me in the classroom. For them, it was special having my undivided attention and just talking about their interests and lives. They always received a special “treat” at the end, too!

Creating a community where everyone was valued and belonged was just as important as teaching my daily lessons. Everyone had to understand that we were ALL learning together, including me. It was each student’s job to help those in need and encourage them.  In this way, coming to school was not only coming to a safe place, but also coming to a place where they could attempt to reach their fullest potential.


  1. Love your suggestions for a supportive community. Thanks for sharing them.

  2. How much more the students would benefit if all teachers approached them like you did!