Why You Shouldn’t “Build Community”

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In educational parlance, building community means to manufacture it.

It means to organize activities and “circles” in order to create camaraderie and a cohesive family-like environment.

The sentiment is good.

A sense of togetherness and altruism is something every teacher should strive for. However, trying to build community, rather than allowing it to happen organically, is a mistake.

Here’s why:

It’s fake.

You can’t force community. You can only set up conditions that nurture it. Otherwise, students will resist. They’ll experience cognitive dissonance. It’s human nature.

Yes, they’ll go along.

They’ll tell you what you want to hear or do what is required. But inside it won’t mean anything real. Just another hoop to jump through so they can get on with their day.

It’s meaningless.

Tell a student they must say or write something nice about someone and they’ll do it, but if it’s not from the heart and of their own volition, then it’s hot air.

And everyone knows it, especially the recipient—who now feels embarrassed that the teacher made others be their friend or voice an unsolicited compliment.

Which is no compliment at all.

It’s dishonest.

If it isn’t real, then it’s a lie. Plan and simple. Kind letters, shout-outs, stuffed animal toss, morning meetings, and anything else force fed to students will never resonate.

The activity may be fun at first because of its novelty.

But soon it will ring hollow, becoming something to endure with a roll of the eyes and hopefully without embarrassment.

It’s awkward.

Many students are uncomfortable being put on the spot. Others are uncomfortable being less than authentic.

It discourages rather than encourages socialization.

The truth is, although you may not get audible groans when you announce a non-academic, community activity, they’ll be groaning on the inside.

It’s time-consuming.

If you’re serious about learning, you don’t have time for frivolities, especially those that are ineffective. Trying to build community directly is a massive waste of time.

Only the teacher feels good about it.

It just another piece of educational flotsam teachers are encouraged to do that provide little if any benefit to students.

How to Really Build Community

There are three ways to build community that are real and sustaining.

1. Protect.

By far the most important and effective way to build community is to protect your students from bullying, name-calling, and disruption.

They must feel safe, first and foremost.

Only then will they open up and participate successfully in group and partner learning activities. Only then will they take social and academic chances and build friendships with many different kinds of people.

2. Ensure.

You must ensure peace and safety through expert classroom management. Every student must be held strictly and consistently accountable for behavior that breaks the bubble of protection.

Your students must see you as the leader and defender who will step up and step in to guarantee their right to learn and enjoy being part of your class.

Once they’re able to let their guard down and be themselves, selflessness and caring for neighbors happen naturally.

3. Compete.

Competition builds new friendships, camaraderie, and community quickly and far better than a thousand kind letters.

It doesn’t matter what it is. A recess soccer game against another classroom. A math war between one half of the class and the other. Vocabulary group competitions. Debate battles.

Nothing works as well or is more fun.

Empower & Equip

Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right.

Public education is failing, and one reason is the time spent on activities that seem right and might make the teacher feel good, but in the end hurt students.

So much is wasted on fluff and nonsense that take away from the one thing that helps students and their future more than anything else: Academics.

If they can read, write, think, and communicate well—above the low-bar “grade-level” standard—their entire view of the world and what they’re capable of is transformed. Opportunity explodes. Their life reorients in a new direction.

Our job is to empower and equip.

It’s not to tell students how they should feel. It’s not to tell them what to think or which political issue of the day to support. It’s not to engage them in amateur group therapy.

Teach content well. Spend the precious time you have on learning. Be great at protecting their education through classroom management. Demand hard work. Raise standards above what anyone thinks is possible.

And let them soar on their own wings.

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