Creating classroom communities

Getting to know your classmates is an integral part of a good education. Photo by Lauren Hough.


When you walk into a class every day without knowing a single person in the room, you miss out on an important part of your education — the classroom community. Professors should be creating a classroom community in each and every course because it allows for a more in-depth education. 

One of my favorite things about Butler’s College of Education is the emphasis on classroom community. Learning to communicate effectively and building lasting relationships is a large part of the College of Education because of the benefits it adds to the classroom. When students know one another, the classroom becomes a low-stakes environment for students to learn from mistakes and from each other. 

I know everyone in each of my education classes. Not only do I know their names, but my professors have purposely sought out opportunities to have us work with, speak with and get to know one another. 

As an education major, one of the first things I noticed in my non-education classes is the lack of community. In my core classes, my professors have never tried to create a space where we can get to know one another. We do not do small group discussions, we do not get time at the beginning of the semester to meet one another and we do not have a community. 

Students thrive when given a community within their classrooms. It provides students with the opportunity to have a more fulfilling college experience. 

Dr. Brooke Harris Garad, a lecturer in the College of Education, believes that creating a space where students make relationships should be a priority for professors. 

“On one hand, [creating a classroom community] is not our responsibility.” Dr. Harris Garad said.  “But on the other hand, I think our classes benefit, or our university benefits, the Indianapolis community benefits from strong relationships being built and students being happy and successful here.”

While learning the academic content of each course is the explicit benefit of a college education, creating a community is equally as important to the academics. Professors should be encouraging students to talk to one another, work together and create a classroom community. 

Sarah Mangan, a sophomore health sciences major, talked about how her science lectures can feel redundant and monotonous without a community. 

“When I just go to a classroom and sit down to not know anybody’s names for the whole entire semester, it just makes it feel really impersonal and makes going to class kind of miserable,” Mangan said.

Sitting through a class that is already content heavy, stressful and at times most likely overwhelming are already things that college students do on a daily basis. Furthermore, a lack of  communication with their classmates the entire lecture just gives students another reason to want to skip class. 

A classroom community where each student knows everyone and works collaboratively together is something that students want at Butler University as well. 

Jonathan Shinn, a sophomore music education and vocal performance double major, talked about why he thinks classroom communities can benefit students’ learning and academic success. 

“I think the biggest thing is [that a classroom community] creates a … foundation for learning,” Shinn said. “If you have better connections in your classroom with the students or professors, that can lead to a higher level of learning just because you feel safer in a classroom community environment.”

In classes where I do not know anyone, I almost always feel more anxious and uncomfortable. Because I do not know who to talk to, I am so much less likely to speak out or ask questions during class. When professors create a space where students know one another and are comfortable, they are creating a space where remarkable learning and thinking can happen. 

Having a classroom community makes achieving that higher level learning easier. When we know our peers in our classes, we are getting academic support from our classmates instead of only from the professor. 

Mangan talked about the benefits she would receive if her professors prioritized creating a classroom community. 

“Right now, in some of my classes where I don’t have a lot of friends, it’s hard to find people to study with,” Mangan said. “Or if I just have a quick question, I can’t just ask the person next to me because I don’t know anything about them.” 

Although creating a classroom community might seem like it takes a lot of time and effort, it does not need to if it is done purposefully. Creating a community can be simple and still effective. 

Dr. Harris Garad explained how she easily creates a classroom community throughout her classes.

“Getting to know students on the very first day we spend time where everyone gets to introduce themselves and speak about who they are,” Dr. Harris Garad said.

In COE classes, that foundation of community creates such a welcoming environment. I am confident in asking questions, responding to my peers and participating fully in classes because my professors have purposefully created a community in our classes. 

Regardless of the content of the course, creating a community of learners in the classroom can deepen their understanding. Classroom communities should be being built in every college across campus. They should not only be created in the COE. 

Shinn talked about his experience taking a COE course and the benefits of the community. 

“A good kind of analogy would be that an ed classroom works as an ensemble … [with] the way we build ideas off each other and … communicate with each other,” Shinn said. “It’s at such a high level because that foundation of community and relationships was built from the beginning.” 

Although forming these relationships in the very beginning might feel a little redundant or silly when we are sharing our fun facts on the first day, they are forming relationships that last the entire year and beyond. Spending time in the beginning of the semester getting to know one another will make working in group projects or in group discussions noticeably less taxing and stressful. 

Going to classes where my professors have purposefully created a community is more exciting. I look forward to talking to my peers and the people around me. In classes where my professors have not created this community I dread it. Nobody wants to sit in an hour or longer lecture and just listen without talking to their peers. 

So, next semester, when a professor starts to just lecture on the first day of classes, encourage them to take time to build relationships before jumping into the content because creating that classroom community can make the difference between a great semester and a tedious one. And if your professors start the semester with ice breakers and get to know you activities, know that fully participating in them to create a classroom community is essential to a fulfilling semester. 


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