What is a Classroom Community?
Creating curriculum. Creating lectures that are both engaging and informative. Grading papers and exams. Holding office hours. These are the tasks that most people think of when they imagine the day to day lives of professors. While not incorrect, perhaps the most important task of all is that of building the right classroom community. While this is easier said than done, this guide will answer the big questions that will help all professors create the perfect learning environments for their students.
Think back to an elementary school classroom. It was like home away from home. The teacher put up unique decorations, you spent every day of the school year with the same group of students. You had your own little space in your desk, your cubby, your spot on the rug for story time. The community was built right into the classroom. The further students get along the academic journey, the less of that community is built right in until ultimately, classrooms become unremarkable spaces they occupy once or twice per week, carrying their belongings around on their backs, where they may or may not know anything about the other occupants.
At the college level, classroom community becomes an abstract concept. It is a feeling that professors must invoke without the aid of permanent tangible objects. Professors know they have turned a classroom into a thriving community when they begin to notice students calling each other by name and connecting with each other on deeper levels. They witness smiles, laughter, and maybe even raw emotion bubbling up out of class discussions. They can look out at the classroom and sense when the dynamic has shifted, even in grand lecture halls full of hundreds of students. In the third section below are applicable tips and tricks for creating this atmosphere.
Why is Building Community in the Classroom Important
Whether leaving home for the first time or returning to school after starting a family or a whole other career, college students are vulnerable. As social creatures, humans are not designed to go through major life transitions, such as pursuing higher education, in a vacuum. Social connection in the form of purposeful classroom community makes students feel at ease, encouraging them to open their minds and receive the diverse perspectives of their peers and professors. This allows them to more deeply process the curriculum, leading to greater academic success and clarity on how to apply it toward their career goals.
Viewing the professor as the head of their classroom community, as opposed to just a less human authority figure, makes students more likely to reach out for additional support on everything from specific course curriculum, to academic and career planning, to adapting coursework and academic success into the rest of their lives. When professors create open and welcoming classroom communities, students are also more likely to seek community in the rest of the institution by accessing student services and joining student groups. Every connection a student makes to his or her institution is a step further and another door open to long lasting personal growth and career opportunity. In an article about creating caring classrooms, Huffington Post offers more on this perspective.
How to Build a Classroom Community?
Although professors do not have the luxury of being able to physically transform the classrooms they teach from, there are many ways to create a sense of classroom community! It begins before the first class ever even takes place. Consider submitting a welcome video for students to review and evaluate as a test activity in Kritik. This allows students to see your face, hear your voice, and learn a little bit about your personality and teaching style. It is also helpful to give students a very simple and enjoyable assignment to prepare for the first class. This helps to set their expectations for the first day. Kritik permits students to interact with course material beyond just textbook material and lectures. Through productive conversations and engaging online learning environments, students develop a deeper understanding of course concepts. 
Execution of this first assignment on the first day of class should carry into the community building experience by inviting students to connect with each other in some way. Generic ice breakers are wildly unpopular, so challenge yourself to come up with something creative, personalized, and relevant to some element of pop culture or current event to spark student enthusiasm. The first class should also include a Town Hall-style establishment of a classroom community code of conduct that all students have a voice in and pledge to uphold.
Once this foundation is laid, maintaining the community feel throughout the semester is effortless. Refer back to the code of conduct when needed, and continue to infuse the curriculum with personalized and socially relevant assignments and discussions that allow students to build on their relationships with each other. All of the above can be applied in both a traditional and online classroom setting, so try them out today and see what kind of classroom community you can create.
Professors can also communicate with other educators as part of a "community of practice" for professors to share ideas and thoughts surrounding pedagogy, and facilitating stronger and more meaningful connections with students. To learn more visit our Facebook group page.