Building a Genuinely Social Class Community

This term I (Clive) have two wonderful graduate classes, each with 25 students. One is on Foundations of Curriculum Studies and the other Reflective Professional Development. As part of the community building effort we go to the pub after class three times during the twelve week term (that evening we finish the class half an hour early). This week we had our second pub visit in both classes.

As always, I was impressed with how enjoyable it was and how much we got to know about each other. Only about half the students came, due to the frigid weather, family responsibilities, and school classes early the next day. But it was nevertheless entirely worthwhile.

Other strategies to build a social culture include: sitting in a large circle for most of the evening; having the students say each other’s names around the room each time we meet; chatting and joking at the beginning of the class and at other times; each student giving a brief presentation on their emerging essay topic (2 or 3 presentations a week) with responses from the 3 students sitting to their left or right; small-group discussions on interesting topics, with everyone in each group reporting back. All this leaves less time for me to talk, but I find the students say at least 90% of what I would have said; and anyway, I get to choose the weekly topics and readings.

It is only a 36 hour course, shorter than most school courses, yet a real bond is formed. The social atmosphere adds greatly to the enjoyment of the course and the discussions are deepened. It may not seem very “academic,” but I wouldn’t do it any other way!


1 thought on “Building a Genuinely Social Class Community

  1. Trying to get there. Finding challenges being a per-course instructor who teaches only one course a semester and feeling disconnected with the flow of the faculty.

    However, we do pre-course and post-course “eat-and-greets” where I bring in some munchies and we gather around to eat and talk (thanks for idea TIm Fletcher). It’s incredible to see the difference between pre and post course. I ask for rooms that have round tables rather than fixed seating. We partake in true cooperative learning where students are learning with, for, and from each other. At the start of the term we also do two activities that are both for building community and for modeling how to do so in a classroom – Get to Know Your Friends Bingo, and Getting to Know Each Other with Sunkist Fruit Snacks. Each and every day we begin with “Announcements” which keeps us all connected (again, thanks Tim Fletcher, which I’m confident can be traced back to time with both you, Clive, and Clare). We spend the first three weeks focusing on Building Class Community as one of the 7 suggested Priorities in Teacher Education. We both partake in discussions about the benefits of such, while also being “in” it and actually building community. We don’t then just leave it, but focus on other things and always refer back to how what we explore builds/doesn’t build class community.

    Although I’ve considered branching out by doing something outside of the classroom, I’ll have to admit that I’m not brave enough for that yet – feeling threatened by being in a precarious position as a per-course instructor. If I ever find myself in another position where I’m in a faculty for a number of years, as I was a few years back, I will definitely take that next step. Having said that, the feedback I’ve received from students about the group cohesiveness they developed when they were a part of many of my courses over a three years, and as they compare themselves to cohorts before and after, is overwhelmingly positive and they say even the few small things mentioned above, in combination with truly caring about them as people and their academic well-being, has been overwhelmingly positive and appreciative.

    So, thank you Clive and Clare, and Tim Fletcher, for supporting my development as a teacher educator in taking my understanding of “building class atmosphere” (pre-teacher education experiences) to “building class community”.

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