I have been thinking a lot about what the community in my classroom looks like, and as I reviewed Chapter 9 of Barkely’s Student Engagement Techniques I found some great tips and examples of what this could look like.
Promoting community to me is more than just a cohesive group of individuals comingling within a space (both in the physical classroom or through online learning environments) a true community has roles, expectations as well as contribution from everyone within the community.
When we think of roles we often tend to think of the instructor or teacher as the authority in the learning space… Barkley suggested that true learning communities, teachers, and students are partners in the learning process, I can align with this piece of her thinking. At the same time I believe is not possible in all cases for the teacher to release all control. I think it should be attempted where practical and possible. I know that I would have a hard time giving up things like structure or the calendar of my class. (although in some cases it is done through group discussion) and would likely give it a try in some areas.
Barkley suggests that a single strategy or even several strategies would likely not be successful if one is not willing to release control from the teacher-centered approach.
I think that the teacher can in fact still create a culture or identity for the class as a community for engagement while still maintaining some of the authoritative roles within the class. This would be achieved through promoting inclusive behaviours, doing group activities that are either content or non-content related, I really like T/S 33 subdividing the class into smaller groups and allowing the groups to work formally or informally on their projects or even general learning activities, I would expand on this by having participants generate a group or class name or vision statements as well as establishing ways of having formal disagreements among classmates or even with the educator.
As I often teach the same course I like the idea of T/S37 Celebrating the community and bringing in past alumni to serve as tutors, discussing their struggles or affirming the culture that we are trying to create within the class.
I think that these few simple ideas are just the tip of the iceberg of practical ways to both create the community as well as engage students.
I recently attended a 6-month leadership course through work called Thrive, this was a leadership course and contained an action learning project. I did not recognize it specifically as building community at the time, although looking back now at some of the strategies in Brookfield’s book I recognize them immediately.
Our cohort was broken into two groups where we created group names as well as a vision statement and charter for our teams. Our facilitators arranged past Thrivers (even the name of the Alumni group was created to suit the community!) for us to connect with on our experience or any struggles that we may have. We met each morning of the course and discussed connection or feelings loosely associated with the course content to break the ice and share about ourselves… The facilitators created this awesome community while maintaining much of the authoritative control in terms of our timeline and required learning for the action learning project… they also provided us small opprotunities to change how something was approched through the concept of proposals and then a call for either a new proposal or a vote of alignment…
Where possible I would like to shamelessly steal their approach to building community.
Building Community by Bryce Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.