Using Community Building to Meet the Social Emotional Needs of Your Students

SEL2 New.jpg

(Part 2 of a 3-part series on social emotional learning.)

In my last post, I discussed how it is equally important for teachers  to support the social emotional, as well as the academic needs of our students. I highlighted using literacy as a method to support these specific types of growth. This is just one of many classroom strategies! Another approach is through creating a positive classroom culture that has many opportunities for building community.

The beginning of the school year is an excellent time to set the tone for the rest of the year.

During those precious first few weeks, teachers have many discussions with their class about rules and expectations. I always stress the importance of these items under the following categories: have self control and benefit the community, as most rules easily fall under one of these umbrellas. First, we discuss in depth what these two crucial categories mean.  Then, we brainstorm ways we can practice both on a daily basis and I likewise emphasize that having self control and building community are expectations that everyone follows in school, home, and life in general.  As a class, we work together to create the below corresponding anchor chart to refer to throughout the rest of the year.  It is important to do this type of work with your students and allow them to share and transcribe their ideas. Feeling a sense of ownership, togetherness, and having all voices heard helps to grow and foster a classroom community.

Please note that the beginning of the school year is not the only opportunity to tackle these concepts! Having a class discussion about self control and benefiting the class community is valuable at all times of the school year.

Morning meetings are another excellent way to build community.  

During a morning meeting, students and teachers gather together to do some (or all) of the following: greet one another, share information from their daily lives, participate in an activity, and read a “morning message” from the teacher.  Welcoming and acknowledging others, as well as sharing and listening to one another, helps to support our students’ desire to be heard, collaborate, and feel a sense of belonging.  Participating in a quick academic-based activity and also reading a morning message helps to reinforce academic skills learned in the past or preview new skills that will be learned that day.  Morning meetings are wonderful opportunities to practice social emotional and academic skills simultaneously.  Furthermore, they help to build trust and set a positive tone for the rest of the school day.  

Class meetings are another way to build classroom community.  

Class meetings, similar to morning meetings, involve all of your students sitting and actively engaging in a conversation together.  Generally, a class meeting has a specific purpose ranging from making an important decision (i.e. voting on names for a class pet) to addressing a class problem (i.e. responding to negative reports after lunch).  You may plan class meetings in advance but other times they happen “on the fly” (especially when addressing a problem).  These types of class meetings are sometimes quite frustrating because they take away from academics and planned instruction.  However, if your children are upset, chances are they will have trouble focusing which means you need to address the problem. Together, we then discuss what went wrong and what we can do better next time.  We learn from our mistakes and reflect.  If a consequence is necessary of course I will give one.  However, a chance to learn from their mistakes needs to occur as well.


Some school years we may have classes who require more community building than what I’ve mentioned thus far.  I had a rather challenging class one year and I noticed that they needed many more opportunities to say and hear nice things about themselves and others.  I in turn blocked out a half hour after lunch, twice per week, to engage in “community building” activities.  Together we participated in several activities, and below are some of my favorites:

  1. Pick a name out of a hat and write a nice letter to that person. Then, students read their letters to their peers.

  2. Pick a name out of a hat then ask that person to leave the class. Then, the rest of the class works together to make a list of positive qualities that person possesses. Then, the student returns and is able to see what others said about them.

My 1st principal said during a staff meeting, “if you say they can’t, then they won’t”.  This stuck with me for my entire career.  Not only do we need to have high expectations for our students’ academic behavior, but also for their social emotional behavior.  If you have a child who has a difficult time getting along with others or working together - recognize that problem and try to find a solution, rather than concluding that “they can’t.”  These are the students who will benefit most from community building!  While it’s frustrating and challenging at times to have misbehaved students, your engagement and dedication will help solve those problems and may prevent them from happening in the future. Ideally, creating a positive classroom culture that includes opportunities to build community will help to prevent problems.

Our students need opportunities to socialize, problem solve, and work together.  Building a positive, engaging, and collaborative classroom environment through activities like community building and meetings helps to reach this goal. We need to provide these opportunities to help support our students’ social emotional needs.