4 Easy Ways to Start Building Community in Your Classroom on Day 1

Shout out to Vera (@thetututeacher) who shared this Target find for her classroom entry!
Currently on sale!

In a recent post I shared the five things I think we need in our classrooms on the first day of school, and I’ll tell ya– they’re pretty simple, uncomplicated, cheap/free things. I recommend checking it out if your head is starting to swim with back to school anxieties or if you’re just looking for some suggestions!

There’s a debate bubbling up on Teachergram and Facebook about the “right” thing to do on the first couple days of school.

Side A: Focus on routines and procedures and the logistics of your class

Side B: Focus on community building and getting students to open up

Unsurprisingly, there seems to be a belief that it has to be one or the other because one is inherently more valuable than the other. There also this subtle implication happening in the comments that if you prefer to focus on side A you’re a bit of a heartless tyrant and if you focus on side B you’re compassionate and thoughtful. But I would argue that the amazing teaching and magic happens when we learn how to blend both. If you’ve been hanging around Cobble&Brick a little bit, you know I’m big into using routines and procedures to build a sense of safety, consistency, and trust in my classroom (Go Heartless Tyrant Team!) but today I’m sharing some ways you can build community and encourage students to speak up!

Idea #1: At the threshold, greet students by name, make sure you’re pronouncing it correctly, and find out if they prefer a nickname. Write it down on your clipboard.

Idea #2: Don’t call on the same students over and over during the lesson (even if they’re the only ones who volunteer).

Idea #3: Give time for students to write, share with one person, then speak whole class…

This one may seem obvious, but when the flow is flowing in class and we feel that groove kicking in, we can want to skip the writing and partner sharing and launch straight into discussion. It’s tempting, but that approach meets only a tiny percentage of the class where they’re at and leaves behind opportunity for more voices to be heard, which is huge for creating a true feeling of community. I have a full set of materials, including my favorite peer feedback handout, included in my Design Your Dream Classroom course which you can find here!

Idea #4: …But make sure you validate their ideas whether or not they choose to speak

I read a post from a frustrated teacher the other day. She was very upset that a student had been “oppositional” and “defiant” on the first day of class when she refused to share her ideas during a discussion. She responded rudely when the teacher pressed her, then promptly shut down entirely. The teacher was looking for advice on what to do next, which I thought was the best question to ask. Here you can download my free guide to restorative conversations with students because let’s be real, we’re imperfect humans and these exchanges with students will happen from time to time, and we can always improve.

Here are a few ways to validate a student’s ideas on paper:

  1. If you can, use different color Post-Its to signify different positive comments. Blue could be for a response that you personally connect with, yellow a response that challenged your thinking, pink a point of view that you found unique.
  2. The same process, but if you don’t have Post-Its, just use a symbol key. Project it on your PowerPoint or write it on your white board for students to reference.
  3. As students write, jot a little note on their paper.

I hope this helps spark your thinking and planning! Thank you so much for being here and for reading. As always, you can find me hanging out over @cobbleandbrick on Instagram. Pop over and say hi!

1 thought on “4 Easy Ways to Start Building Community in Your Classroom on Day 1”

  1. The message on the doormat says it all! What better way to make every student feel safe and valued. So important in these challenging times!


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