Fostering community can be a challenge. Frequently, a classroom can seem like an unintentional jumble of people.
A few weeks ago, I noticed that our CPR meetings were feeling flat.
Students were participating, but it felt like they were just going
through the motions of CPR without really endorsing the power of the
community we had built. One morning, an impromptu problem-solving discussion brought the reinvigoration we needed.
When we finished our greeting that morning, I mentioned some recurring problems in our room.
Most mornings, the room was a mess: breakfast wrappers left on
counters, community pencils broken, supplies not put away, papers on the
floor. Rather than scold the students for the mess, I put the ownership on them. I posed the question, “What are we going to do to take care of our community?” then sat back and let them problem solve.
What followed was a rich and meaningful discussion
about the problem. Students talked, listened, agreed and disagreed in a
respectful manner. Leaders stepped up to moderate the discussion and
make sure every voice was heard. Students suggested creative and
complicated solutions to the problem and debated the pros and cons of
Eventually they arrived at a solution they all
agreed on, and they decided to implement it the next day: two names
would be drawn before school started, and they would be “secret police,”
respectfully and consciously monitoring classroom cleanliness. And it
The spontaneous problem-solving meeting we held turned the tide in our advisory. Since then, students have been more engaged, and our community is stronger.
Sometimes, communities are defined simply by proximity. A more enmeshed community is one that shares a goal. Possibly the richest form of community
is defined by a communal “universe of obligation.” This community is
one in which individuals are meaningfully connected to one another,
responsible for each other’s failures and successes, and they take
responsibility for community maintenance. In our impromptu meeting,
students entered into one another’s “universe of obligation,” and this
has deepened our shared classroom community.
It’s a risk to turn problem solving over to adolescents. I needed to step back and let the students take over. They came up with a solution I would not have chosen, but that process created community bonds and a newfound sense of ownership that has been evident in the richness of our community ever since then.
Try turning things over to your students, and see where it takes you!
Ann Larson Ericson has been using the Developmental Designs approach
in her classroom for more than eight years. She teaches high school
chemistry and physical science at Community of Peace Academy, a public
charter school on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Posted January 2014