A caring community is one in which all members have a respected place, in which diversity among individuals is expected, and in which individuals assist each other with their work or activities wherever appropriate. Classrooms and even entire schools can be caring communities, although moving them in this direction takes work on the part of teachers and other school staff (Noddings, 1992, 2004).
The key work in promoting a caring community involves arranging for students to work together on tasks, while at the same time communicating the teacher’s commitment to mutual respect among students and between students and teachers.
More specifically, as a teacher you can encourage community by doing any or all of the following:
Show and Encourage Respect
Tell students that you value mutual respect, and describe some of the ways that students can show respect for each other and for school staff. Better yet, invite students themselves to describe how they might show respect.
Look for ways to sustain relationships among students and teachers for extended times. These ways may be easier to find in elementary school, where a teacher and class normally remain together for an entire year, than in middle and secondary school, where students learn from many teachers and teachers teach many students. But still there are ways.
Participating in extra-curricular activities (like sports teams or drama club), for example, can sometimes provide settings where relationships develop for relatively long periods of time – even more than a single school year.
Ask for their Input
Ask for input from students about what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, and what kind of evaluation they consider fair.
Although using their ideas may feel at first as if you are giving up your responsibility as the teacher, asking for students’ input indicates respect for students. It is likely that many of their suggestions need clarification or revision to become workable, especially if the class must also cover a particular curriculum during a set time.
But even just the asking for input shows respect, and can contribute to community in the classroom.
If conflicts arise between students or between a student and teacher, encourage respectful communication as explicitly as you can. Some communication strategies about conflict resolution are helpful in this regard are:
• Identifying true problem ownership
• Listening actively
• Assertive (not aggressive) I-messages
Find times and ways for the class to experience itself as a community. This suggestion may look a bit vague at first glance, but in practice it is actually quite concrete. Any action builds community if it is carried out by the group as a whole, especially if it is done regularly and repeatedly and if it truly includes every member of the class.
Such actions become rituals, not in the negative sense of empty or mindless repetitions, but in the positive sense of confirmations by group members of their commitment to each other (Ehrenreich, 2007).
Examples of Rituals
In the elementary grades, an obvious example of a ritual is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (or its equivalent in classrooms outside the United States). But there are many other examples of classroom routines that gradually acquire the (positive) qualities of ritual or community-affirmation, often without deliberate intention or effort.
A daily, regular time to work through homework problems together in class, for example, may serve obvious academic purposes. But it may also gradually contribute to a classroom’s identity as a class.
With time and familiarity the group homework time may eventually come to represent “who we are” and of “what we do here” for that class.
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