Classroom Communities (Do's and Dont's)

Classes are constructed communities.  While there are certainly many ways to promote an equitable and successful learning environment in your classroom, any approach should be founded on a sense of participation in an intellectual community founded on the importance of free exchange and respect for ideas from all sources.

Consider including a statement encouraging students to understand the classroom in this way in your course policies.  For instance:

This course requires university-level work and, as such, requires university-level participation.  Every student will be expected to treat his or her peers as members of a scholarly community, to provide useful critique, and to refrain from destructive or harassing commentary.  Do not talk while your peers are talking.  Turn off phones when you arrive.  Do not disrupt the class by packing up your materials before our meeting time has ended.

An instructor must set the tone for the class and build a community within her classroom.  Building a productive community requires effort and thought but it also brings great benefits and can help to create and sustain an effective learning community.  Consider the following advice for beginning to build a successful classroom community: 

The Do's and Don'ts of building classroom community
Integrate student comments into discussion to model good discourse. Make students spokespeople for ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, or other groups.
Circulate through the room, attentive to group behavior, in order to reinforce positive student-to-student interaction. Ignore observed antagonism between groups of students.
Show students how to diplomatically critique each other’s work and rely on peer critique as a feature of your course. Disrespect or humiliate any student, particularly in the presence of his or her peers.
Learn and use student names and encourage students to use each other’s names in class discussion. Create an ongoing sense of difference between a student whose exceptional work you share with the larger group and the rest of the class (i.e., be sure emphasis is on the work and not on the individual student, if you single him or her out for praise).
Create assignments in which small groups share distinct responsibilities for a common learned objective. Grade in a way that merely encourages students to compete with one another.
Provide opportunities for students and groups of students to present their work to the class or to a larger public. Let students regularly form the same small groups (if possible, put students together whom you think could learn from each other, given expressed interests and previously submitted work).
Be attentive to the varied experiences students bring to your course. Make assumptions about students’ experiences and identities.