Building Community in the Classroom
No learning occurs on an island, unless of course that island is populated with a community of dynamic students and teachers, open spaces that foster stimulating conversation, and movable tree trunks that allow for spontaneous meetings-of-minds. Actually, this island doesn’t sound so bad…
Anyways, talks of vacation aside, this post will focus on how you can design your space with the importance of community in mind. Two University of Dayton researchers, Deborah J. Bickford and David J. Wright, documented the relevant research on learning in supportive, close groups in their paper, Community: The Hidden Context for Learning, and reached a clear conclusion: “people learn best in community.”
But what does an authentic community really look and feel like? You certainly cannot put a group of people together in a room and call it a community. Community rises from a strong social commitment shared among a group of people who share similar purposes and values. Their commitment to each other is fostered through communication — communities engage and interact with each other in meaningful ways in an effort to learn more about each other and build deep connections.
So, how can learning spaces support these types of interactions? Let’s take a look.
Learning from the Middle
While not impossible, it is more difficult to foster community in a traditional, lecture style classroom, with the teacher at the front of the room and students in rows looking at the back of each other’s heads. To challenge the traditional classroom dynamic, the front of the room should not hold the most focus. In this BrightWorks classroom above, tables are spread out evenly in the room, creating a more equalized use of space. Teachers and students can weave around the room with ease, which allows for a greater range of mobility and conversation opportunities. In addition, the sizes of the tables are varied and can support small or large group work, or even individual work when necessary.
A fixed desk or lectern at the front of a room may not be ideal, but that does not mean that a teacher can’t have a desk or a station. We love this hack of a dynamic, movable lectern submitted by one of our users, appropriately called “Teacher Desk 2.0.” This lectern is outfitted with large display screen that can communicate the day’s messages, a scanner, a battery backup, shelves to store tools, and wheels for easy mobility. The engineering work put into this hack is quite impressive, but you can simply add wheels to any lectern to create a more mobile teaching station.
To be in community with others means to seek to understand people’s stories, values, dreams, and unique personalities, all of which support the development of empathy and compassion. While students get to know each other in many informal ways, you can use your wall space as an opportunity for students to express who they are and what is important to them. For younger students, this “map of the heart” display allows students to visually show, share and learn about meaningful parts of each other’s lives.
For older students with a blossoming sense-of-self, writing and sharing a personal narrative can be transformative. In this display of personal narratives expressed through poetry, students can share their personal stories in a creative way. This display also highlights the importance of diverse communities. The narratives highlight that students comes from a different experiences, yet together, their stories come together to create a new school community.
Wide Open Hallways
Community-building can also be supported outside of the classroom, especially as we all know that socializing spills over from the classroom into the hallways on a daily basis. But not all hallways are created equal! When designing a school space, it is important to include wide hallways that can serve as meeting spots, connectors and bridges from one classroom to the next. When hallways are uncluttered and inviting, more interactions between teachers and students can arise during class changes or before and after school.
The bonds created in and around learning spaces are essential. Community created in the classroom creates a better learning experience and a better social experience, both of which are interconnected. While these communities rise organically, we can do our part to ensure that our learning spaces develop and support the creation of these healthy, positive relationships.