Faith that Works

Teaching middle schoolers how to live and practice their faith

Building community is right at the forefront of my school’s mission statement, which makes it a top priority for me and the other members of our school, but even if it’s not necessarily stated in your school’s mission, we teachers know that community is crucial to learning.  A strong and supportive community of parents, teachers, administrators and students makes for a much more successful learning experience. Here are some simple strategies for building your community: as a staff, with parents and in your classroom.

3 ideas to build community as a staff:

  1. Pray together daily.  Both at the school I attended as a student and now the one where I am a teacher, the staff has the opportunity to meet for daily prayer.  I am a big supporter of that prayer time being before the school day- I think it just sets the tone for the whole day.  If this is something that is outside your comfort zone, start where you are comfortable.  Maybe you could all say the Lord’s prayer together, or read from a devotional book.  Just a few minutes together in prayer really builds relationships and community.  I know that the teachers I am closest with personally are the ones I have come to know through our morning prayer times.
  2. Do strategic acts of kindness.  The church I was a part of in college always called acts of kindness strategic instead of random and I love the idea that we are purposefully and intentionally kind.  This idea really could in the staff, parent or classroom category- kindness builds community wherever you are.  Since September has 30 days, maybe you want to use my strategic acts of kindness challenge. You could cut all the strips and put them in a jar in your break room for everyone to use, or you could challenge yourself to one a day for the whole month, checking them off as you go.  But when you go out of your way to be kind, your community will be stronger.  I promise.
  3. Do something fun together.  Our town hosts the state fair every September, and periodically we will go together as a staff, just for fun.  Or maybe you could go to happy hour with your coworkers.  I had a group of friends/coworkers a few years ago that would go to 3 or 4 happy hours a school year with the rule that we couldn’t talk about school.  I learned so much about people’s families, children, struggles, goals etc. through these conversations.  If you’re not comfortable with happy hour, maybe try a coffee date or lunch on a half day.

3 ideas to build community with parents:

  1. Call home with good news first.  This is in almost every teaching book I’ve ever read, and yet, it is advice that I don’t take nearly enough.  Last year I had a sometimes tricky class, and I tried really hard to call home with good news first.  I didn’t do it often enough, but the few times I did, it made a huge difference in my relationship with that family.  This year my goal is to make a good news call at least once a week.
  2. Invite parents to prayer opportunities.  Many elementary teachers send home weekly newsletters about what is going on in their classrooms.  While I admire their organizational skills, the best I have been able to muster is a once a month check in with parents.  That being said, I always try to invite parents to prayer services and masses that the class is in charge of.  This year I am also going to invite parents to adoration with us when we go, and also to join us at least once a month in prayer as a class.  Just like with coworkers, praying together builds community with your families too.
  3. Help parents grow in their faith at home.  There are lots of ways to connect what you do in class with what families do at home.  Two of my favorites are ones I’ve tried during the advent season (read more specifics in November!).  Last year I did a Jesse Tree swap with families from the school and we all got together to pray and share (and snack) on the Saturday before Advent.  Because we did a Jesse tree in class, students were able to share the stories for each ornament with their families. We also worked on creating bookmarks based on the four themes of the Advent candles for students to share at the dinner table with their families.

3 ideas to build community in your classroom:

  1. Give students ownership of classroom decor.  I know it is hard to let go of control, but letting your students take charge of what the classroom looks like really helps to build a sense of family in the room.  A few easy places to start are door decor (my class voted on a design for our door last year and then spent homeroom time making the whole thing come together) and lockers.  We used to have a locker decorating contest, but then we got new lockers and the students aren’t allowed to decorate the outside any more.  We’ve also had a prayer board and a community board where students can post what they want.
  2. Spend time on team building.  I normally spend the first week and a half of school getting to know my students, letting them get to know me, practicing procedures and doing team building activities.  There are tons of ideas for how to do this online, but a few of my favorites are the tarp challenge and the box challenge.  For the tarp challenge the whole class has to work together to get all of the students to the opposite side of a tarp without anyone’s feet touching the ground outside the tarp.  For the box challenge groups work in smaller teams of 5 or six and have to reverse their team line within a small rectangle taped on the floor.  Students work on communication skills, deal with failure and practice problem solving, all of which will help them work as a community throughout the year.
  3. Good news Tuesday.  This started after I had a string of really terrible news all in a row.  I was struggling in school one morning, and asked the students for good news stories to help lighten the mood in the room.  Good news Tuesday quickly became a tradition in our classroom and every Tuesday morning students would take turns telling about the good things going on in their lives as well as answered prayers.  It’s now something I do every year.

If you are already back in school, I hope one or more of these ideas can help you build a stronger community in your school.  If you aren’t enjoy these last few days of break!  Please comment to share even more ideas about how to build community in your classroom, school and staff!

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