“Mr. Dean, I wanna stay in here,” is the highest praise one can hope for from students. Teaching is often a thankless job, but students’ desire to prioritize being in your class rather than any other class is not something to take lightly. When considering what makes students want to stay in one’s class, I was reminded of the great teachers I had the privilege of serving beside and learning from. They possessed charisma, charm, compassion and could offer a good joke now and then.
But what truly makes students want to stay in your class? When teaching virtually during the pandemic, I was confronted with this question when students refused to leave our Google Meet ten minutes after class. I am not one to hang up prematurely but at some point, this became my students’ fate. It was ironic being the creator of an environment where students shared a sense of community but also being the guy who routinely disrupted the environment by ending the call.
If you are interested in your class being the destination for students when they return to school, focus on upholding a community rather than a classroom. Continue reading for 3 tips to consider when crafting a sustainable community for students.
Understand Your Students
Pronouncing students’ preferred names is cool and all, but a true sense of community requires you to know your students on a deeper level. I am not suggesting that you converse with students and jot down all their passions. This sort of work takes time, but you have an entire school year to solidify relationships.
One way to improve relationships with students is to talk with them. Talk with them in the hallways, throughout lessons, during downtime, in the morning, during dismissal, etc. Students want to know that you care and that you are in their corner. Do they have preferred pronouns? Do they participate in sports? Are they having a good day? There is always an opportunity to build community through genuine conversation.
Know Your Students’ Needs
All eyes gloss over when a teacher says, “listen, you will need this information a decade later.” Students struggle to plan for tomorrow, how would information they could use a decade later be of interest to them? Understand what makes your students tick. They may not be too interested in the distant future, but they may be interested in earning 5-10 mins of free time by meeting a goal as a class.
Sometimes students’ needs may seem trivial to you, but they are worth considering if you value community. I recall a student relying on me to lay her edges before lunch. With a toothbrush in hand, and all eyes turned towards me, I tried my best to address the student’s needs. At the end of the day, our mission should be to educate and empower students. Sometimes empowering a student means laying her edges. I know this sounds bizarre but I am not alone. More and more teachers and administrators are going to greater lengths to address students’ needs. In doing so, they become trusted figures in their schools who are not too important to humble themselves to groom a student, if need be.
Students will upset you. They may even enrage you. But a little grace will give you the inner strength needed to believe in students, even when they are intent on pushing your buttons. It is easier to maintain a community if you don’t hold grudges with students. It also helps to remember that we all have struggles and we are not perfect. Even in our imperfections, we have had years to progress to our current level.
If you know any other community-building tips for the classroom, share them below.