Building a Community: Using Pictures
There are many “buzz” words in education; filtering, understanding, and implementing concepts can seem overwhelming. Many questions arise. Why does it matter? Where do I start? What will this mean for my students? So I focused on one concept: building a community. This is one way my classroom developed their sense of community.
A few words from the “Kid President”
…. (My “hook” to my students)
Why does it matter?
Building a community within and outside of the classroom focuses deeply on the implications and actions of the story it tells to others. I remember a student once proclaiming,” You must live at school, its your home!” That student was 5 years old at the time and those seemingly innocent comments made me think. How can we transform our classroom into a community? “In other words, interaction enables people to build communities, to commit themselves to each other, and to knit the social fabric (Beem 1999: 20).”
Where do I start?
(Setting: Special Education Classroom 2013-14 school year, students k-1)
I started by asking two questions.
What do you want from your teacher?
What do you want from your school?
I looked at them and they looked at me and after several minutes.
“I want friends,” said one student.
“I want to be with them,” said another.
They were looking for social autonomy, social acceptance, and to build their own community. The need for community is evident, clearly important, and an essential component of success in school.
As a classroom we set expectations:
Respect for one another. This meant students understood we all have our own need to express ourselves, share ideas, and the right to react differently. We did not all have to be the same. Instead we celebrated and encouraged free thinking, differences, and others success.
We succeeded together and failed together.
We brought our individual talents together and showcased them individually as well.
My Role: “Coach”
- Provide experiences for them to grow as individuals
- Show them how to fail; how to react to failure and use it to succeed
- Use their interdependence to collaborate and grow academically and socially
Then we overhauled the classroom. We sat down as a group and I asked them to show me how they wanted to learn. I gave them guidelines: we have to be able to see the projector, avoid placing tables near the sink, and we need to be able to see one another. From there they created a learning environment they wanted. We developed our own identity as a classroom. They created a wall of our pets. A dedicated space they could go to when they needed space and see from afar. They wanted deep connections they could see. It was a special place they went to “turn it around,” think, and connect. Soon our idea of community spread to other students their age. Every morning a few students would come by and visit our wall dedicated to animals. Making comments, laughing, and at times bringing their own photos as a contribution. It became a focal point of our room that symbolized their way of connecting to their community. By the end of the year they had accomplished their goals of connecting and making friends.
Upcoming school year 2014-15:
Collaborate with students to build their community to create academic and social change.