Building Classroom Community with Secondary Students (Freebie Included!)

Monday, August 6, 2018 / 1 comment
Building Classroom Community with Secondary Students (Freebie Included!)

Have you seen this video? Go ahead, take a look. It's adorbs. 

These third graders are waiting...sort of patiently...for their turn to complete a complicated and choreographed high-five routine with their teacher. It's great. 

Here's what MY 9th, 10th, and 12th graders would look like if I even dared to suggest such a thing:
parishilton GIF
  I actually had a student who looked JUST LIKE THIS when I
suggested she could improve her grade by, you know...studying.
                      *eye roll* I know, SO LAME.

Having a class song, talking about our classroom "family," and secret classroom handshakes are awesome - but secondary teachers need a different set of tools to build a classroom community of tweens and teens.

Here are a few things that have worked in my classroom with even the most "too cool for you" students:

Believe in the power of music

teacher cuts headphone wires of student gif Building Classroom Community with Secondary Students
Don't do this. You may be tempted...but just don't.

It sometimes feels like my students' earbuds are super-glued in their ears. THEY ALWAYS HAVE THEM IN! But in their defense, music is really important to students during this time in their lives. Take advantage of that by playing music in your classroom. Have upbeat disco playing when they enter (they'll "hate it," but in a good way), play instrumental movie soundtracks while they work in groups, make music a part of your room and your students will enjoy being there. 

It's cool to be...not cool

Woman trying to be fashionable walks into window gif Building Classroom Community with Secondary Students
She's such a try-hard. (I only know what that means because
a 15-year-old explained it to me.)

Teenagers know cool. And you...even if you're a first-year teacher fresh out of college, aren't. And we shouldn't want to be that kind of cool. Our students are surrounded by peers who are listening to the same music, obsessing over the same drama, and using the same weird slang. They don't need us to be like them...they need us to be examples of grownups who are caring, trustworthy, and! But fun like a grownup - don't be afraid to ask them what some new slang word means! They'll love teaching it to you (especially if its vaguely inappropriate) and they'll love it even more when you "try to use it" and fail. By embracing your uncoolness you will, in fact...become the cool teacher they like talking to.

Care more about them then your subject

celine dion listening GIF Building Classroom Community with Secondary Students
No one can listen like Celine...but we can try.

I have to go out on a limb here and say that, in my opinion, most teens don't want to know all that much about you. They want to hear some funny stories about your life, maybe some mildly dangerous things you did when you were young and possibly cool...but overall, stories about the day-to-day life of "an old person" (that's anyone over the age of 23, by the way) isn't really their thing. You know what they DO want to talk about though? THEMSELVES. Give teens a listening ear and some actual, genuine interest and they will share their innermost thoughts and feelings with you. AND, they will love you for it. Again, teens don't need "cool, adult friends." They need adults who they trust and feel safe with who they can talk to about the things that are going on with their lives. Provide that, and your classroom community will be strong.

Play games...but, you ones

excited game show GIF by Nickelodeon Building Classroom Community with Secondary Students
Ok, maybe not games like this but come on,
Double Dare was AWESOME! #childofthe80s

We might not get to have a class song, play the "take as much toilet paper as you want and then tell us one thing about you for each square," or have a class high-five, but secondary teachers still have tons of creative game options when it comes to building classroom community. 
  • Starting the year with a Classroom Escape Room that reviews where key items are in the room and goes over important rules and expectations is a great way to review the syllabus in a fresh, new way.
  • Allowing students to choose a class identity (like a famous author or novel) and create a class charter of norms you all agree to follow can act as a more "grown-up" version of the more elementary "Make the Class Rules Together" activity.
  • Challenging the students to learn the name of all of their classmates by the end of the first week for extra credit is one of my favorite ways to ensure that each student knows the name of every other student in the class.

Here's a link to an awesome, FREE resource. It's a silly personality test, but trust me, it will get your secondary students talking about themselves in no time - even if its just to tell you that the test is wrong!
Back to School Activities - Fun, Fast Personality Test

Want to prepare them for all the great discussions and group work you're going to have them do throughout the year? Check out these two awesome resources that are perfect for getting students talking, debating, and strategizing.

Team Building Activities: Survival and Group Communication (Space)Team Building Activities: Survival and Group Communication (Desert)

Finally, looking for a way to address creating a culture of mutual respect in the classroom without sounding like someone just lamely listing off rules? Check out this fun resource that teaches students about what gestures are rude in other countries that aren't rude here as a way to get them thinking about behaviors that might be inappropriate in class!

Back to School Activities - Respectful or Rude?

Secondary teachers might not get quite as many high-fives...but with the right classroom community, we can (and do!) build some amazing relationships with our students. Here's to your strong classroom community, secondary teachers! You're making a difference EVERY DAY!

What do YOU do to build a sense of community in your secondary classroom? Let me know in the comments below!

Building Classroom Community with Secondary Students (Freebie Included!)

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