‘Building Communities’ follow up

Two weeks ago I wrote a post on how I was building community in my classroom this year. I had decided that it was important to focus explicitly on celebrating individuality, as well as team building. I wanted to see if it would make a difference in students’ risk taking as learners.

When I last left off I had been ruminating on the fact that I did not feel I was moving forward, that the class did not feel like it was a community yet. After just two weeks with the class I was not surprised that it had not instantly occurred but a bit disappointed nonetheless.

After I wrote the last post, we had a turning point in the class. Could it have happened without the work I had already put in to building community, probably not. But including one new idea into my class shifted the thinking of many of the students and shifted the way they saw each other.

One strategy that some teachers use to create community in their classrooms is class meetings. I had often thought it was a good idea but never found the time. Obviously I did not feel it would make that much of a difference so did not put this on my priority list. I guess I simply undervalued the impact a meeting could have where concerns are aired out and listened to by all.

Since the beginning of the year there had been an underlying issue circling the class, causing much negativity and a lack of celebrating individuality. The issue had finally come to a head and I felt that it needed to be dealt with quickly or we, as a class, would never make the leap from the focus on self to a belief that ‘together we are better’.

So I asked our school councillor to come in and be a part of a class meeting. He has had tremendous experience in ensuring the success of these types of meetings and I was looking for support as I travelled this new road. We started by moving all the desks and leaving an open area for all the chairs to be in a circle. The openness allowed all of us to make eye contact and to feel like we were an equal part of the group. When I shared with the group that we were to have this meeting, I referred to our class as a family. It was important for all of them to feel safe and know that family keep matters private – that we did not gossip to others, that family can trust in each other and that family was there to help each other.

I will not go into the details of what transpired over the forty-five minutes we had but suffice to say, I was overwhelmed by the students’ empathy, by their accurate observations of what was happening in the class and insightful comments on how they were treating one another and why it was as it was.

Since that meeting I have witnessed such a turn around in the class, I often stop to marvel at how far they have come in such a short time. Now instead of being quick with their sarcasm or quick to laugh at an individual for something done or said, the students are much more accepting of the differences each other brings to the class.  They have a deeper understanding of particular needs of specific students and are more willing to help by being positive rather than demeaning. I had a student ask me just yesterday when we would be having our next ‘family’ meeting. I have booked another spot  for this coming week and am looking forward to the discussions we will have.

After reflection I understand that having the meeting alone, without all the work I had done previously, would not have ended with the same results. So even though I had felt that I had not moved forward with my students in building community, I was wrong. What I could not see was that the students were believing that ‘together we were better’, that a sense of trust was growing and most importantly a focus on respect for self and others was instilling in the students a sense of what is important for us all.

My goal was to develop an environment where students felt safer to take risks in their learning. I believe this is happening as some of the students who are normally too shy to contribute are now becoming a part of the conversation. I am seeing students enter the class each day with smiles on their faces, excited to learn, willing to step out of their comfort zones.

I cannot wait to see where out next class meeting takes us, cannot wait for our tables to arrive so that we are not connected to individual desks and cannot wait to see how they work together on their next team building exercise.

It is very clear to me that I need to ensure each year building community is a part of my yearly program, and not just something I ‘fit in’ the first two weeks of the year.

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8 thoughts on “‘Building Communities’ follow up

  1. Anne-Marie,
    I’m so glad to hear about this break through in your class! I have never thought of bringing in another adult to help facilitate the discussion. I have also never had class meetings – how often will you book them, now that students crave them? Did you put a time limit on it, or did you just go until you felt you had some sort of resolution?

    I’ll be checking with our school personnell to see if/that we can have one of these meetings, as well. I think my middle class would benefit the most!

    Thanks for the follow-up blog post! Thanks for keeping us in the loop!
    Sincerely,
    Joy

    • Thanks Joy. I am very lucky to have a councillor at our school full time as he is our vice principal. Normally this would not be an option for us as they are very busy handling many schools.
      I was planning to hold the meetings once a week with Mr. Lewis joining us as often as possible. He really enjoyed the time and experience and would like to be a part of the continuing process. We did not have a meeting last week so maybe once every two weeks is more realistic. I want to have them on a scheduled time so they don’t occur simply because their is an issue that has to be dealt with. There are many great conversations we can have without focusing on conflict each time.I have set aside a 50 minutes block of time but this may not be needed. I will get a better sense tomorrow once our second meeting takes place.
      I am excited to see where this takes us this year.
      Anne-Marie

  2. Anne-Marie,

    I love this post. I love that you started having “family meetings” with your class. The key, really, is that they understand that you ARE a family. Yes, there will be disagreements. Yes, there will be some struggles. But, all of these will be worth working out and figuring out together. That’s great that you thought of bringing your school counsellor in to assist in the meeting. That’s an area where they are experts, so it’s great that you thought to include him in the process and the ensuing discussion. I’m sure that he was appreciative of the opportunity to lend his assistance in this area.

    Doesn’t it amaze you how the structure of our classrooms over the years has actually impacted us and our students negatively in so many ways? Ways we would have never even considered. I love that you moved all the desks out of the way for your meeting, so that everyone was there, open, not hiding behind anything. It is exciting that you are getting tables for your classroom. I think that will do a lot for building a community of learners, instead of individuals learning. It’s powerful! It makes me think back to Kindergarten… we always had tables in Kindergarten – never desks. Desk were usually introduced in Grade 1. Reminds me of the saying, “Everything I know, I learned in Kindergarten.” So many things change when kids leave kindergarten. I think we could all do great things for our students and ourselves as learners, if we brought more of “kindergarten” in to Grades 1-12!

    Great blog post, Anne-Marie. I look forward to reading more throughout the year.

    Tia

    • Thanks Tia. I keep thinking to myself lately the need to learn, unlearn and relearn. What I thought I was doing well a few years ago I now realize needs some unlearning. The need to have the students in desks facing the front for management is about my need to be in control rather than the students taking ownership over their own learning. This is not a comfortable place to be right now but is forcing tremendous change in my thinking.
      I agree with what you mentioned about the statement “everything we know, we learned in kindergarten.” Using tables, ability to learn through play, unlimited creativity, problem solving through dress up, and the list goes on. Taking some time to be in a kindergarten room every so often will remind us of what is important in learning.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Anne-Marie! Class meetings have been a new experience for me this year, as well. My students are still getting used to this forum but I notice that, as each week passes, they are becoming more honest during this time and have already come up with some great ideas. I look forward to hearing more about how this is working in your class as it’s very new for me, as well! I’m so glad that you’re blogging! 🙂

    • Thanks Megan. I am excited to hear that you are also doing this. It is amazing at how honest they can be once they feel safe.

  4. Anne-Marie, I found that class meetings have had amazing results in my class. I have been using them for the last 2 yrs successfully. Last year my class was like a family and I have some of them still this year and we still talk about the feel that was in our classroom and how good it felt to know you had 26 other people looking out for you. My kids from last year are still tight with each other despite being in different classes this year. It is heartwarming to see.

    This year, I am struggling to find that sense of community in our class. The 6’s notice cuz we had it last year. I HOPE my class has a break through soon, I am dying here. If I have to hear any more tattling I am going to lose it. I already made a “you need to think of 3 nice things to say before you tattle” rule and explained the difference between tattling and reporting. Your post gives me hope! I just started class meetings 2 weeks ago and hoping it has an affect soon.

    • Thanks Kat.I was truly startled at how the students responded so openly to the sharing session. It was around a very difficult topic but one they all had a voice in, which may have made the difference. I am glad to hear that this was so successful for you last year and given enough time I am sure it will come around again. It is always hard to start a new year because we have the memories of how great the year before was by the time we hit June!

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