Everyone, whether a child or an adult, has the need to matter, be accepted, valued, and included — in other words, to belong. When asked to write a book on classroom management, we expanded on our last book, Middle School: A Place to Belong and Become and decided to focus on the connection between belonging, community building, and classroom management. We hope this brief overview of a few of the 50 strategies contained in it will give you a sense of just how important this connection is and help you think about how to better promote belonging and community in your classroom.
A favorite James Comer quote reads, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” Chapter 2 shares a variety of strategies to help you develop the trusting relationships needed to build community and diminish classroom management issues. We offer lots of good strategies, but the three-fold foundation needed for a successful classroom culture is:
- Be sure you regularly implement strategies that help you to get to know your students,
- help your students get to know you, and
- help your students get to know each other.
Feeling safe, the focus of Chapter 3, is a critical aspect to belonging and to ensuring effective classroom management. A strategy that stands out to us is Strategy 22 “Handle the Big Stuff.” Of course it’s easy to say “keep students safe,” but being intentional about practices before there is an actual safety need is the key. Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), trauma-informed practices, and restorative practices can go a long way in helping prevent unsafe situations. When those situations arise that cannot be prevented, know when and who to ask for help, and know when it’s not your decision.
In many cases, the death knell for classroom management is a lack of consistency. Strategy 23 “Treat Consistency as a Right” in Chapter 4 asks you to stop thinking of consistency as a chore but rather to see it as a student right. You are honoring a promise you made to your students to maintain an orderly, organized, and safe classroom. The key to making this shift in your thinking is to be absolutely sure you do not establish a rule, procedure, or protocol that you know you are not capable of consistently reinforcing. And consistency does NOT mean rigidity; you have to consider the knowledge you have of each student and deal with the situation in a way that best meets that student’s needs, the needs of the entire class, and your needs as well.
Students’ social emotional competence impacts not only a student’s individual opportunities for success but also an entire class, as oftentimes lack of said competence reveals itself in classroom misbehavior. Strategy 34 in Chapter 5 “Boost Students’ Control of Their Own Behavior” reminds us that we need students involved in making a plan for behavior; that plan needs to be student driven and one that the student has an opportunity to reflect upon and determine its outcome. Sometimes, those plans involve external motivators, which can be helpful. However, those plans must be designed to become internal in order to stick and have lasting success.
There is a direct correlation between quality instruction and a well-managed classroom that promotes a belonging-centered community. We’re sure everyone reading this has had a lesson that tanked because you didn’t think it through or one that failed because you were “winging it.” Strategy 39 “Practice Dynamic Instruction” in Chapter 6 needs to be front and center in all your lessons. Instruction that is engaging, student-centered, well organized, and well delivered will positively impact student behavior, enhance student learning, and increase students’ sense of belonging.
Students working together is key to belonging. Our final strategy in the book in Chapter 7 is Strategy 50 “Celebrate Group Belonging.” Research has shown that “people who cooperate learn to like each other” (Robert Slavin, 1991, p. 96). Give students opportunities not just to work together but also to celebrate each other. Have them share kind words, highlight each other’s strengths, and have opportunities to boost each other’s success.
If what we have shared interests you, ASCD has made Cossandra George’s foreword, the Introduction, and Chapter 1 of We Belong: 50 Strategies to Create Community and Revolutionize Classroom Management available on-line. We hope it serves as a helpful resource as we all work to improve student outcomes.