A sense of community in the classroom can be a great way to establish accountability amongst your students (to each other), as well as help students feel they are part of something bigger, beyond just themselves. It is also a great way to encourage and validate students' voices and make them part of the decision making in the room.
Each week, our 50 4th and 5th graders move tables out of the way, and form a big circle for our Community Meeting. It is important that we sit in a circle, so that the students can more easily talk WITH each other, face-to-face, versus looking at the backs of each others' heads!
Ruth and I then grab our class's Idea Box, which is full of the topics that will lead our meeting. The Idea Box is basically a decorated shoe box that sits on a table, with a stack of index cards and a pencil next to it. If there is anything a student feels is important to discuss at our Community Meeting, (s)he will write it on the card and put it in the box. Ruth and I also put cards in the box if there is something we want to talk about with the students.
Our Idea Box has contained things such as:
- The people playing basketball at recess are not treating each other kindly.
- Can we change our nightly homework so that one night a week we can write about our evening instead of doing a reading response?
- People are not cleaning up our classroom community at all! They are leaving things all over the floor.
- There is a student who is not treating others respectfully...he talks mean to them.
- Can we have a PJ Day?
- Can we have a Write-a-thon one day?
- We would like to start a Spanish Club at recess.
The list could go on and on. If a student puts an idea in the box, (s)he then talks about it at the Community Meeting. Other students then ask questions or make comments to help us solve any problems or make a decision about something. We do things such as thumbs up/thumbs down or Fist of Five (5 = you LOVE the idea, 4 = you are good with it, 3 = you can live with it, 2 = you aren't thrilled with it, 1= you don't like it, a fist = you CANNOT live with it: If there is ever a fist, we revisit the discussion) to make any final decisions.
If a student wants to remain anonymous, (s)he must write that on the index card. Ruth or I will then bring the idea up for them.
At the end of our Community Meeting, we then take time to go around the circle and give appreciations to each other. This is such a positive way to end our meeting!! The kids all have a right to pass if they have nothing to say, or they can give an appreciation. Some appreciations have included:
- I appreciate Savanna for helping me with my math contract.
- I appreciate Mrs. Joseph (our tutor) for helping me understand fractions.
- I appreciate Logan for letting me take his place to play basketball when it was full.
- I appreciate my whole classroom family for being nice to me.
Their appreciations aren't always "deep," but their kind words to each other bring many smiles to many faces during this time of our meeting!
Our Community Meeting generally lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the number of topics, as well as the depth of the topics. The insights and opinions of the students during this time is outstanding. Many times, students resolve problems by talking to each other, without Ruth and I having to say a word! It's wonderful!
Community Meetings are a great way to incorporate student voice, give your students an opportunity to learn how to respectfully listen to each others opinions, make decisions in the classroom, and to build that stronger sense of community!