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Part 5: Building a Classroom Community: Helping Students Relate Well to Each Other

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At its most fundamental level, a classroom community will be defined by the commonalities that students share, the presence of courteous behavior, and appropriate ways to solve conflicts. These positive relationships all pave the way for a united classroom where students can thrive instead of simmer in various types of disruptive conflicts.

When students can focus on what they have in common, many of the barriers to acceptance and tolerance will disappear. With effort and persistence, you can assist students in learning to recognize their commonalities. Use the tips in the list below to guide you as you work to help students learn to see what they have in common rather focus on the things that divide them.

Make sure that each student’s strengths are well-known to the rest of the class.

If a student has an unpleasant history of failure or misbehavior, make it clear that it is time for a fresh start.

Make it a point to recognize students who work well with others. Whenever possible, praise the entire class for its cooperative attitude.

Encourage students to share experiences and personal information about their families, cultures, dreams, and goals while working together.

No classroom community can exist without courtesy. If you notice that you students struggle with treating each other with courtesy, then it is up to you to help them learn acceptable ways to treat each other. When all students act in a courteous manner, then many of the barriers to a supportive classroom community disappear.

Make sure that everyone understands which behaviors are courteous and which are not. Be direct, specific, and clear about what you expect. Do this early in the year so that you can prevent mistakes.

Reward good behavior. When you see a student or a group of students being courteous, take notice. Point it out so that everyone else can see what you mean when you talk about being polite.

Model courteous behavior. Rules are useless if you do not model the behavior you want from your students. Each day, you have hundreds of opportunities to show your students how to be polite. Take advantage of each one. Being able to show that you are a courteous person is a powerful tool.

Exploit the power of peer pressure. You can steer students in the right direction by making sure that everyone in the class is courteous. When this happens, discourteous students will see that there is no peer support for bad behavior.

Encourage students to accept each other’s differences. You can do this by modeling acceptance and respect for each of your students, particularly the ones who struggle with social skills.

As a classroom teacher, it’s up to you to make sure that conflicts do not interfere with the community spirit that you want to build. Your students will model themselves on the way that you react to conflict. If they see their teacher working to resolve problems in a cooperative manner, then students will be more likely to adopt a similar stance when they experience conflicts themselves. There are many strategies that you can adopt to help students learn to work together in harmony. When you students are in conflict with each other, these suggestions may help.

Pay attention to the interactions of your students. When you see that relations are about to sour among a group of students, a quiet word or two from you will often put things right.

Teach your students that they have control over their emotions. They can change an unpleasant attitude. They do not have to act out a negative feeling.

Make your stand of zero tolerance for threats, bullying, and intimidation well known.

Be careful about the activities in your classroom that set up a fierce competition that can go too far and turn into conflict.

Help students understand the concept of a win-win situation instead of just emerging victorious over an opponent. Learning to reach common ground is an important skill that can make resolving conflicts almost a straightforward process.

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Julia G. Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. She has been a teacher in the public schools of Virginia, Arizona, and North Carolina for more than thirty-five years. Thompson currently teaches in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she is an active speaker and consultant. Author of Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher, First-Year Teacher’s Checklist, The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, and The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide Professional Development Training Kit, Thompson also provides advice on a variety of subjects through her Web site, www.juliagthompson.com; on her blog, juliagthompson.blogspot.com; and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TeacherAdvice. Her online course, Survival Skills for New Teachers, will be available at https://youtu.be/Aq2aSpne0aQ .
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