Tag Archives: Community

Putting Students in Charge of Building the Classroom Community

As teachers, we usually go into the first weeks of school assuming full responsibility for building the learning space. But what happens if we put some of that responsibility in our students’ hands instead? Our new students come to us full of ideas, stories, expertise, and curiosity. These are the essential materials for a strong classroom community. Here are a few ideas for how to put those raw materials to use:

Have you tried these or other community building activities? Tell us what works!

September 2017 #NCTEchat: Elevating Student Voice and Choice

Join Jason Augustowski @MisterAMisterA and the #bowtieboys tomorrow, Sunday, September 18, at 8 p.m. ET, for a Twitter chat around “Elevating Student Voice and Choice.”

The #bowtieboys are a group of students led by Jason Augustowski from high schools in Northern Virginia committed to educational research with a focus on student engagement. The content of their tweets, blog posts, and YouTube videos are the amalgamation of hundreds of students’ thoughts and feelings regarding the current state of American schooling.The #bowtieboys believe that a strong partnership between student and teacher, whether in

The #bowtieboys believe that a strong partnership between student and teacher, whether in design of instruction, assessment, environment, or management style, will render the most productive and engaging classroom for all parties. These students are working at home and on the road (including speaking at the NCTE Annual Convention) to change the face of American education for the better.

The #bowtieboys will be participating in #NCTEchat this Sunday:

Ryan Beaver @RBeaver05  http://ryanbeaverbtb.blogspot.com
Sam Fremin @thesammer88  http://samfreminbtb.blogspot.com/
Spencer Hill @spencerrhill99  http://spencerbtb.blogspot.com/
Ryan Hur @RyanHur09  http://ryanhurbtb.blogspot.com/
Jack Michael  @jackmichael776 http://bowtieboyjack.blogspot.com/
Joe O’Such @Joe_Osuch  http://bowtieboyjoe.blogspot.com/
Sean Pettit @seanpettit9  http://seanpettitbtb.blogspot.com/
Kellen Pluntke @kellenpluntke  http://kellenbowtieboy.blogspot.com/
Christian Sporre  @CSporre  http://christiansporrebtb.blogspot.com/
Dawson Unger @dawsonunger  http://btb-dawson.blogspot.com/


Here’s what we’ll discuss during the chat:

Q1: What steps do you take at the beginning of the year to foster a productive relationship with your students?

Q2: How do you connect and build a rapport with students who appear to be unengaged?

Q3: What leadership opportunities do you provide for your students?

Q4: How do you teach the standards while ensuring student voice and choice is at the forefront?

Q5: What resources do you use to ensure that your students feel heard and promote choice?

Q6: What is one takeaway from tonight’s chat that you will try to use soon?

We hope to see you tomorrow night at #NCTEchat!

Time to Revisit Ideas of Citizenship and Community

The following post is by member Sara Fuller, assistant professor of English at Cuyahoga Community College and former middle and high school English teacher. This is part of an ongoing monthly series from the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

“We can never get a re-creation of community and heal our society without giving our citizens a sense of belonging.” Patch Adams, Do One Thing

For many of us, August brings the start of a new year with new students. Regardless of which age group we work with, this provides us with an opportunity to revisit ideas of citizenship and community.

The above quote from Patch Adams rings true for this time of year. Our students must feel as though they belong in our classrooms before they can be effective, proactive, and engaged in their communities.

The question then becomes, how do we create a sense of community within our classrooms? How do we make each and every student feel as though he or she belongs?

Here are some strategies you can try out in your classroom:


Paige, from the Our Elementary Lives blog, suggests using “Compliment Circles” every few weeks in early elementary school. She writes that “[Compliment Circles] teach my students how to give and receive compliments as well as create a classroom of respect and kindness.” Read more here.

Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy highlights another teacher, Stephanie, and her great idea for using compliments with older students. She points out that this may be more effective after students have gotten to know one another, but I think it’s worth adding to your repertoire of ideas! Read more about it here.

Classroom Contracts

Sarah, from More Than a Worksheet, suggests brainstorming good character traits for classmates to have. After brainstorming with students, create a list and post it for students. Read more about what she does here, and see an example!

I’ve done class contracts before. I like having students come up with their own expectations for respect and participating. In my experience, giving students ownership—regardless of their age—yields stronger results.

Growth Mindset

This is, of course, the buzzword of the moment, but it’s worth mentioning. As an educator at an open access school, I see students who have been told their whole lives that college isn’t for them. That school isn’t for them. That they can’t do it. And often they receive both overt and subtle messages saying, “You don’t belong here.”

It saddens me to think there are students who feel they don’t belong. And because they don’t think they belong, they don’t end up engaging with the other opportunities that school and life have to offer. They lose out on an important part of being a citizen of the world.

Britt, The SuperHERO Teacher, writes,

At the secondary level, it’s important for our students to understand the reasoning behind why we are learning about mindset in the first place. If you can convince your students that the knowledge they are about to learn is worthy of their time, they will be more apt to focus and take the lessons seriously. Providing students with the science behind growth mindset is a great starting point, but I think even more important is providing students with various examples of how growth mindset applies to their lives. Start with the connection between the brain and mindset, and then give specific scenarios to encourage students to continue learning.

Her point holds true for students from middle school through college. Let them know why it’s important, and give concrete examples to help increase buy-in. Britt has a lot more to say on the subject, which you can read here.

Laying the foundation of community and belonging will allow you to work with your students on becoming more active and engaged citizens throughout the rest of the school year. How do you build community in your classroom?

Happy teaching!

August 2017 #NCTEchat: Starting the Year with Our Village

Join our NCTE Lead Ambassadors and members of #NCTEvillage tomorrow, Sunday, August 20, at 8 p.m. ET for a Twitter conversation around “Starting the Year with Our Village.”

Lead Ambassadors are advocates who represent NCTE in the social space, as well as on the ground in their local regions. They do everything from engage with fellow NCTE members online to gathering stories to hosting offline events in their communities. The 2017-2018 Lead Ambassadors are:

Cameron Carter @CRCarter313
Kristen Luettchau @lastingrosebud
Nicole Mirra @Nicole_Mirra
Lakisha Odlum @MzUrbanEducator
Liz Shults @eshults11
Raven Jones Stanbrough, Ph.D.
Stella Villalba @stellavillalba
Nicole Warchol @MsNWarchol

Here’s what we’ll discuss during the Twitter chat:

Q1: How do you get yourself ready for a new school year?

Q2: You’re not heading back alone. Who’s in your village? Give them a shout-out!

Q3: What’s one piece of advice someone from your village gave you that keeps you inspired?

Q4: What did you read / learn this summer that you can’t wait to share with your village?

Q5: What do you hope to see in the #NCTEvillage community this year?

Q6: What’s one takeaway from tonight’s chat that you’ll bring to your village?

We hope to see you tomorrow night at #NCTEchat!

Teaching ELA Students Active Citizenship

Students learn through advocacy projectsAdvocacy has many benefits, including educational ones. In his 2005 English Journal article “Walking the Talk: Creating Engaged Citizens in English Class,” high school teacher Fred Barton explained that this is why he leads his ELA students every year through a political advocacy project:

From a strictly academic perspective, advocacy in the classroom has several benefits. It provides opportunities for students to do primary and secondary research; engages them in a process of discovery; and enables them to select, develop, and publish electronic and textual documents for specific audiences in an authentic rhetorical context. This fits almost perfectly with my pedagogical goals as their writing teacher. Because they buy into the project, I am able to focus the students’ attention on elements of style, structure, and impact.

Buy-in is a critical factor in any long-term classroom project, and to inspire that, Barton says it’s vital to start with a topic compelling enough to overcome a feeling of powerlessness common among those who are excluded from voting and are “unused to thinking of themselves as active participants in the democratic process.”

In one case, Barton’s class joined with a racing greyhound rescue group that advocates for ending greyhound racing and acts as an adoption agency for former racing dogs. He found this issue engaged students, as many had pets and could relate to the need for more humane treatment.

The students’ first step was to educate themselves on the issue:

We discussed the animal-human bond and shared stories. Because we were close to a college of veterinary medicine that had done a lot of work in the area of human-animal relations, we were able to have one of the veterinarians come to class and talk about research that has been done on the value of companion animals in human recovery from illness. We also read excerpts from Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and Matthew Scully’s Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.

Once they gathered information about greyhound racing, they decided where to share that information. They were in Michigan, where dog racing is uncommon. However, they knew of a large population of senior citizens who spent summer in Michigan but winter in Florida, America’s largest racing state. Students put together a PowerPoint presentation specifically geared toward these seniors, encouraging them to take action in Florida. Students also “created a press packet that was mailed to newspaper and television stations in the capital cities of racing states.”

Political activism, of course, always risks a negative reaction. Barton had thought they would be safe in a state without dog racing, but he quickly learned supporters of dog racing could cross state lines as effectively as his students could. When “the breeder’s association found out about us [the association] started bombarding my administrators with emails and phone calls.”

While this backlash was uncomfortable for the adults, it showed the students that they were far from helpless, as they could scare people in power. “As one of my students pointed out, ‘We don’t even know these people and they hate us already. Is that cool or what?’”

In the end, Barton and his school responded by inviting the breeders to come to the class and explain to these students why their concerns about animal welfare were unfounded. The breeders declined.

Read Fred Barton’s entire article “Walking the Talk: Creating Engaged Citizens in English Class.”