Starbucks is known for creating a “third place” environment. The wildly popular coffee company has set up their coffee shop environment to be a place between home and work. It’s a special environment designed to “inspire and nurture the human spirit.” This environment creates a community of visitors which allows for pleasant conversations and caring attitudes. I know this very well because I worked there for 6 years and loved every minute of it. The Starbucks culture is exactly what they strive to be.
This specialized environment is a concept that can relate to the classroom learning environment. We as teachers need to create a learning community that inspires and nurtures students to question and investigate and analyze the world around them. I have put together a list of ten things you can implement this year for an efficient learning environment.
1. Self assessment. Have the students track, analyze, and set goals with their own personal data. If you can set up an assessment providing a state standard for each question, the student can see which standards or categories they need to work on. They could also see in which standards or categories that are successful.
2. Student experts. Set up a system of students who can be experts at certain things. If the teacher is helping a student, students know they can visit one of these “experts” for help. To ensure fairness and no hurt feelings, I would make these experts on a volunteer basis. Once a student volunteers, work with them to find something they can be an expert at. It may even be to edit a student’s work for complete sentences and paragraphs. For a lower student who wants to volunteer, provide them with a checklist to guide them through helping someone.
3. Sitting in groups, not rows. Arranging the seats in a classroom as a table, or group, enables students to collaborate and communicate in their learning. This makes it an easier transition into group work or labs, pair and shares, and partner work.
4. Display past science labs. When you place labs around the room, students can explore that concept again or dig deeper into the investigation in their free time. Imagine leaving a circuits lab up for students to explore. A student who didn’t quite fully understand may play with it and have the idea of insulators and conductors click weeks later! It’s easy to practice math problems over and over again and see it on paper, but science is a different animal. It’s hands on practice. I had to use a microscope several times before I really understood how to set it up and focus on a slide. Hands on math investigations would be great set up around a classroom as well!
5. Behavior and rewards system. Behavior sets the tone for the learning environment. Having a working system of behavior warnings and rewards can make lessons and days run just as planned!
How can you build community among the students in your classroom?
Start each day with a morning meeting encouraging students to share ideas and things about themselves. A good procedure for the morning meeting is to pair up the kids with a random partner each day. I use cards that have different numbers, letters, and pictures on each card. I pass out the cards and tell students to find the friend who has the same number. The next day its the friend with the same animal. I ask the morning meeting question and give each partner 30 seconds to tell their friend their answer. After the minute is up, we take turns sharing what our friends said. They have to raise their hand to volunteer and ask their partner if they can share their answer. On certain days, I will let them share their own answers. Encouraging the students to shake hands and say “Hi, ___. I’m glad you are my friend, today.” helps them build good communication skills.
It is important to start the school year off with fun icebreaker games and All About Me posters, so the students can get to know each other. Post the All About Me Posters around the room for everyone to see. My favorite icebreaker game for students to get to know each other is the find someone who bingo. They must find one person that can answer yes to the question on 5 squares in a row. Its a fun game that gets kids moving around and talking getting to know each other.
A compliment card system is really fun and encourages the students to watch for others in the classroom doing good things. They have to write at least one card each week, and they have to write a compliment for at least one new person each week.
Make a classroom or grade level newsletter each week with pictures of the students participating in activities together throughout the week. Also include personal achievements of students in extra curricular activities. Kids love to see pictures of themselves and their friends.
My absolute favorite community building that I have seen is an assembly my principal put together each Friday morning. This 30 minute assembly would include choreographed dances to a few songs, an entertaining skit, and awards given for good behavior and hard work from the week before. Each week an award was given to the class of the week, which was decided by the specials teachers. The class of the week got to keep the trophy outside their classroom door until it moved on to the next class.
To incorporate building the classroom community into lessons, I make every anchor chart as a class with student input. The only posters I keep on the walls are the anchor charts we made together. The kids have ownership in the learning that is displayed around the room.
I always have some part of the lesson as a partner pair and share or a group share. This encourages the students to work together to come up with a solution or an answer to my questions.
Basically building the classroom community is about building a family and helping the kids and teacher work together and learn in fun meaningful ways!