Classes are Communities

The first day of any class, I prep in ways that you would expect: notes are outlined, slide deck it polished, schedule for the class period is solid, and I’ve communicated in advance with the students so they come to class with expectations already set. I arrive to my classroom early to make sure the set up is how I want it and the room is presentable.

I teach classes, by my own choosing, that run the bulk of a day. My graduate students are by and large working professionals so the schedule is one that suits their busy schedules. Therefore my course meets less often but when it meets, we gather for eight hours.

Which means multiple trips to the bathroom.

When you have guests over to your home, you clean the bathroom. When I invite students into my classroom, it’s no different. The experience of my course is not limited to the time we spend as a group in a single room.

Broadly speaking, my classes are opportunities to build community. The building blocks of successful communities are universal: a sense of belonging, a sense of shared purpose, and a sense of accountability.

Sense of belonging

I try to always in my classroom for the early arrivals, ready to go. There is a window of time as a class gathers when you can have small talk with your students: hear about their week, their latest news, and model a natural and conversational give and take that segues into that same sense of conversation and sharing in the classroom.

In my class, I call you by name. I insist on using nameplates the entire ten weeks of the quarter, which not only reinforces names, but also makes it more likely folks will use them. I look for opportunities to refer to my students in the course of my lecture and comments, not just when they raise their hand and contribute. I thread the class with their first names.

Sense of shared purpose

My class is not about what I can convey in learning to them. It is about what we can teach one another. Making that shared pursuit of learning visible is paramount: giving all students a voice, encouraging a sense of collaborative success, and articulating in writing (syllabus) and in person that the class is one of shared learning.

Sense of accountability

There are layers of accountability when it comes to a community, and a class is no different. First, you are accountable to your classmates to arrive prepared, ready to engage, and open. Secondly, you are accountable to the professor, for all the same reasons. Third, you are accountable to the material—the authors created the material through hard work and it deserves close attention and understanding. But most importantly, you are accountable to yourself. You get what you put into a course. So go all in. Every time.

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