Community in the Physical and Virtual Classroom

Categories: Teaching
August 10, 2020

Trust, shared purpose, interdependence, mutual support, and safety in taking risks are some of the features of an effective community. Your own community might be your neighborhood, your faith group, your colleagues, your extended family. For students, their learning community, the online or brick-and-mortar space in which and the people with whom they spend their learning time, is of primary importance. The powerful influence of both adults and peers in schools shapes learners’ experience, self-perceptions, hopes, and dreams.

By putting students in a physical or virtual room together, we create a community. With intention and perseverance, we can create a productive culture on purpose. A productive community of thinkers is one where learners see peers as resources, rather than competitors. Participants help one another troubleshoot wayward laptops and research ideas. Students feel confident to share their thinking, to risk making a mistake in front of the group, knowing that they will be supported and learn from the experience. Productive communities of thinkers buoy progress and offer participants opportunities to achieve more as part of the collective than they ever might individually (Vygotsky 1978). Community is a place where students want to be.

Education expert Ron Ritchhart (2015) describes the primacy of culture in any school reform effort:
I believe that culture is the hidden tool for transforming our schools and offering our students the best learning possible. Traditionally, policymakers have focused on curriculum as the tool for transformation, naively assuming that teachers merely deliver curriculum to their students. Change the deliverable—Common Core, National Curriculum, International Baccalaureate Diploma—and you will have transformed education they assume. In reality, curriculum is something that is enacted with students. It plays out within the dynamics of the school and classroom culture. Thus culture is foundational. It will determine how any curriculum comes to life.Many forces interact to inform our classroom culture: the physical environment; the participants’ attitudes, words, and actions; and the nature of the work we engage in together, and yet as lead learners, we have the opportunity to set the tone and to hold the bar high. We can intentionally create a classroom community that reflects our best hopes for all students and invites them to draw forth the unique potential in one another.

Excerpted from Phenomenal Teaching, published by Heinemann.


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