How Can I Help Teachers Build Community in the Classroom?

Written by Diane Sweeney and Leanna Harris

There is always so much to do in the first few weeks of school. Especially this year. Teachers will be reconnecting with their students after being apart. They will be setting up classrooms that meet the newest guidelines for keeping us safe, healthy, and learning. And they will be worried about addressing gaps that are the result of school being interrupted this spring.

While we may feel compelled to jump right into our content on the first day of school, this would be a mistake. Our first step must be to build community. If we don’t take this step, we may lose the already frayed connection that we have with our students.

What is the Coach’s Role?
As we work to build community, an important role for coaches is to help teachers create belonging and access for all students. Partnering with teachers to reflect on the following questions will support our students to thrive in ways that go far beyond the lesson of the day.

  • When you envision your classroom community, what do you hope it will feel like for each of your students?
  • What specific steps will you take to engage students who haven’t felt a sense of belonging in school?
  • If school is held virtually or in a hybrid schedule, how will you build community so that all students feel connected?
  • How will each student’s voice be invited, honored, and valued by the teacher and fellow students?
  • What norms will be created and monitored to ensure the students’ voices are heard and honored?
  • What routines will you create to allow all students to participate in the classroom community?
  • As the coach, how can I support you in creating this community with your students?

Note: You may notice that while we usually use the word ‘we’ in our coaching stems, this time we didn’t. This is because we believe that it’s up to the teacher to build strong relationships with their students, thus creating a classroom community that will last throughout the school year.

When Do We Start?
This work begins now. In this interview, Brené Brown chats with Michelle Cottrell-Williams, 2018 Virginia Teacher of the Year, about how she begins the year by creating an environment where her high school students feel a sense of belonging. In doing so, she is able to form relationships with students built on vulnerability, trust, and empathy. Ms. Cottrell-Williams explains how beginning with community building may feel like a big investment at first, she more than makes up that time as the year continues.

As coaches, we need to be proactive to forge these conversations. Maybe it’s an email to teachers to let them know that you would like to be a thinking partner as they plan how they will build community.  Perhaps you create a cohort of teachers who would like to explore this as a group. Or if you’d like to do this work throughout the whole school, you may choose to partner with the principal to create a plan for developing professional learning on this topic. However you choose to approach teachers, the time is now.

In Closing
There is no question that the start of the year is going to be challenging. Families will be adjusting to new routines, the master schedule will likely be changed to accommodate new guidelines, and teachers will be encountering the unknown (again). Embracing these challenges means that we walk alongside teachers and serve as their thinking partners to design classrooms where all students will thrive.

This blog post is included in our new course, Launching Student-Centered Coaching. For more information about the course, please visit https://www.dianesweeney.com/online-course-launching-student-centered-coaching/

© Diane Sweeney Consulting