How do you foster a sense of community in your classroom?

Misty Lacour
Misty Lacour Community Member Posts: 2 ✭✭✭

Has anyone else struggled to foster a sense of community or belonging in the classroom? If you teach online, have you found this to be particularly challenging? I teach university students completely online and my goal is to build a sense of belonging in my classroom. Having students feel engaged and a part of the community is crucial for student persistence and retention (Thomas, Hebert, & Terras, 2014).

I recently collaborated with a colleague of mine, Dr. Laura Dees from the University of West Florida, to brainstorm ideas. To reach our goal of building a sense of community in our courses, we reviewed our approaches to collaborative learning. We decided to re-design our collaborative approach using a growth mindset in designing activities and discussions (Dreon, 2022). We are trying out these three strategies to improve engagement and foster a sense of belonging for our students:

Small-Group Discussions
Include opportunities for small-group discussions in each class that is less structured and student-led. We modified proven K-12 strategies such as Socratic Seminar, Jigsaw, and Think-Pair-Share (Filkins, n.d.; Fisher & Frey, 2020; Reading Rockets, n.d.). We found that students gained much more through this collaboration during each course meeting than from any lectures that were offered.

Use Technology
We began using available technologies such as Google Docs, Google Forms, Zoom
break-out rooms, and so on. These technologies allow students to work collaboratively real-time on an activity, regardless of the student’s physical location (across states and the world). They also pair well with the small-group strategies.

Provide Feedback
We found that providing feedback, such as with Exit Tickets, was a necessary component for the discussions and strategies to be effective. Student self-assessment is also important. In addition, encouraging students to provide feedback to their group members is a key part of collaboration (Dreon, 2022).

We are finding these strategies to be effective in our classrooms. Our students have indicated that the use of these approaches are having a positive impact on their engagement and sense of belonging in the courses.

What strategies do you have for fostering a sense of community in your classroom? If you teach online, what additional tips do you have for developing a sense of belonging for the students in your class?

Dr. Misty LaCour
ASCD Emerging Leader, Class of 2010
Faculty, Purdue University Global