Building Community in the First Week of Class

Building community is one of the most important things you can do in the first week of class.  This means building positive, productive relationships and establishing community norms.  The former will help the class move past their affective filters which will help enhance discussion and students’ ability to learn and the latter will make behavioral expectations transparent.

 Building relationships:

There are as many approaches to building relationships in the classroom as there are faculty.  The most important deciding factor is that you use an approach that feels comfortable for your style.  Here are a few options:

The Name Game (Jyl Gentzler, former Faculty Director, Center for Teaching and Learning)

Activities that Create a Climate for Learning (Maryellen Weimer, Faculty Focus, July 19, 2017)

The CTL is also happy to help you brainstorm more ideas that will work for you and your specific class.  There are lots of resources out there and we would love the opportunity to connect you with them.

Classroom expectations: 

There are many approaches to help establish norms and expectations for classroom behavior and participation.  Having a clear syllabus which makes learning goals and expectations for success in the course transparent to students is a good first start, but then echoing those during class time will help establish a productive learning environment.  One option to get everyone’s expectations on the table is to ask a series of three questions:

What do you expect of yourself in this course?

What do you expect of your peers?

What do you expect of the faculty member?

Give students a chance to reflect and write individually before they talk in a small group and compile a “short list” of expectations that they then share out with the class for discussion.  Answers to the second question could be winnowed down to a list of expectations that everyone agrees to either by discussion or vote or a method that you or the class determine.  I encourage you to not discuss their answers to the last question right away – unless you need clarification – but take time to reflect and then share with students in the following class what you agree to, what you don’t and why.

The short lists of expectations are also great to circle back to mid-semester to check in about how well each of these sets of expectations are being met and if adjustments can be made. 

**A structured mid-term assessment is a great low-stakes, low time-commitment way to get feedback about student experience and learning in the course. It can help you better support students in the remaining part of the semester.  Please let Riley know if you want to incorporate a mid-term assessment process in your class.

 --Riley Caldwell-O’Keefe, Director, Center for Teaching an Learning


 Additional Resources:

  • James Lang, “The Distracted Classroom: Transparency, Autonomy, and Pedagogy.” The Chronicle. July 30, 2017. 
    • This article covers some pro-active strategies for thinking about classroom management and maximizing the learning environment, especially as connected with phones and laptops in the classroom.
    • He has a book, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, that is available in our Center for Teaching and Learning library on the 2nd floor of the Frost library.  Check here for other books in that collection.
  • Consider the ways that your students are navigating their various worlds such as identified in this New York Times article and how that may impact their engagement with course materials.
  • More Amherst College Teaching Tips!