The Classroom - A Caring Community
Creating a caring classroom community provides a warm, safe environment for young children to learn and grow. Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” states that having one’s basic needs met is the foundation for building “higher levels” of understanding. In order for young children to become successful learners, their basic needs for “safety” and “belonging” must be met.
In a caring classroom setting, children will be able to experience a positive and productive sense of their own power and abilities – a feeling that some children may not have in other life settings. Young children thrive in a classroom that models a caring community. Children are able to experience a positive and productive sense of their power to learn, grow, and contribute to the lives of others. The classroom community enables children to maintain positive interactions, which promotes resilience as well as cognitive learning.
In a Caring Classroom Community
- Students learn how to speak so others will listen respectfully. They also learn how to listen when others are speaking, how to solve problems, and contribute to the group.
- Children have opportunities to participate actively, to belong, and to exercise some control over their lives.
- They feel empowered when they are able to make choices during the day, to establish goals for themselves, to make decisions about their classroom, and to participate in work that is meaningful and engaging.
- Collaborative learning is encouraged as children learn from each other. Children have multiple opportunities to work with partners and in small groups. Children learn to share ideas, take turns, solve problems, listen to others, and receive and offer help. Young children thrive in a classroom that models a caring community.
Participating in class meetings enables children to learn what it means to be a part of a community where all members exchange ideas and listen to each other. Some meetings may be held as part of the daily classroom routine while others are called in order to handle a problem, to enrich a lesson, to share exciting news, or to formulate a plan for investigating a particular topic.
In class meetings:
- Students help discuss necessary rules, solve problems, and resolve conflict. These meetings can include role play, puppet plays, and stories.
- Teachers can address differences of opinion, rather than imposing solutions and rules on children.
- Each person’s contribution is accepted and all collaborate together.
- Children learn that there are multiple solutions to problems and that the group can make decisions together.
When students struggle with a problem or would like to award a compliment to another student, they can fill out a "Band-Aid" or a "Compliment" form (see figure below.) On the form, they write their name, draw or write what happened, and drop it in the agenda box. The teacher will select which "Band-Aids" and "Compliments" will be shared at a class meeting (and determine if they might like to add a "Band-Aid" or "Compliment" of their own to the box).
"Compliments" are shared at the beginning of each class meeting, complete with applause from the class for a job well done. Students receiving the "Compliments" are given the form to take home and celebrate their thoughtfulness with their families. "Band-Aids" are selected and processed in the following manner:
- During the class meeting, the teacher reads the name on the "Band-Aid" and says, "John, it looks like you had a problem today. Can you tell us about it?"
- John briefly tells the problem.
- The teacher asks the class if they have ever experienced a similar problem.
- After several children have shared a time when they had a similar problem, the teacher asks, "Has anyone discovered something John might do to avoid or help solve this problem?"
- Students share solutions.
- The teacher asks John to select a solution he will try the next time he faces that problem.
- On the right-hand side of the "Band-Aid" the teacher writes down the solution John has selected to try .
- The "Band-Aid" is posted on the agenda board so the class can check back with John and see how the proposed solution worked out. If the chosen strategy worked, the "Band-Aid" is removed from the agenda. If it did not help, John selects another strategy to try. "Band-Aids" are not sent home with students, but may be kept by the teacher to track specific behaviors or student progress in problem solving.
Learning from Experiences
The following formula is very helpful in assisting young children to process things that happen to them, such as in an argument.
| I feel
|(I feel like I want to play with the fire engine.)
(I take it away from Tim.)
(I get hit, or I get in trouble.)
I feel: The teacher asks the child what she was feeling. Sometimes teachers ask what it is the child wanted to have happen. Feelings are not bad. (It is not bad to want to play with the fire engine.)
I do: The teacher talks with the child about what he can do when he wants to play with the fire engine. The teacher can give suggestions directly to the child, or during a class meeting classmates can share what they do when they want to play with something that is already being used. (Ideas may include asking if you can have a turn, offering to trade them the police car for the fire engine, asking the teacher to set the timer so you can trade off playing with the fire engine, etc.)
I experience: Discuss with the student what he thinks will happen if he chooses each of the options. Invite him to choose an option, try it out, and then report what happened to the class. Talk about both experiences. What happened when you took the toy? What happened when you asked for a turn? Which did you like the best? What will you want to try next time?
Teachers can help students see that they have an influence over what happens to them. Teachers help students process positive and negative experiences by asking questions such as:
- What happened?
- What are you feeling? Do you like this feeling?
- What did you see?
- Why did this happen?
- What caused that to happen?
- What could you do differently next time?
- What did you learn from this experience?