Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Building School and Classroom Community

Karin Lange | Published: September 16th, 2020 by K20 Center


The Building School and Classroom Community professional development focuses on building school identity among teachers and students. Participants will be empowered to select research-based strategies that create community and support learning for all students. Participants will create a vision for their school and classroom communities and select research-based strategies and tools for putting their vision into action.

Essential Questions

  • What are the characteristics of positive school and classroom communities? How can we develop and promote positive school and classroom communities?

Learning Goals

  • Meet new colleagues while identifying strategies that build community

  • Collectively envision a school and classroom identity

  • Select research-based strategies for the beginning of the school year in order to develop a sense of community in your classrooms and school

Materials List

  • Internet-enabled device with sound

  • Chart tablet paper

  • Markers

  • Selection of four photos (attached)

  • Research Brief handout (attached)

  • Strategy Reflection handout (attached)


Greet participants at the door prior to beginning the professional development. This is a strategy that will be discussed later in the session and should be modeled at this time. As participants enter, ask them to sit with at least two people they do not know. Use the attached Presentation Slides to guide the session. Display slide 2 for participants to view as they are seated.

Once participants are all seated, display slide 3. To begin the Pick a Pic strategy, ask participants to find a picture on their phone or laptop that makes them smile and that reflects an element of their identity. Have participants share the photo with their seated group and explain why they chose it.

After participants have introduced themselves and explained the significance of their photo, ask them to upload their picture to the prepared Padlet board (slides 4–5).

Transition to slide 6. As photos are posted, participants can scroll through the pictures. Discuss and reflect on this activity in small groups by asking the following questions:

  • How did this activity help build community?

  • How could this activity be adapted for students?

Allow time for small groups to discuss these questions and share out with the whole group. After the larger discussion, display slide 7 and pass out the attached Strategy Reflection handout. Ask participants to describe the Padlet activity on the handout as well as how it could be implemented in the classroom.

Review the GEAR UP and session goals on slides 8 and 9 respectively. Display slide 10. Frame the idea of building a school community as actions that occur teacher to teacher, teacher to student, and student to student. Also, discuss community and family relationships, but keep in mind that this professional development focuses on the specific relationships on slide 10.


Transition to slide 11 and introduce the It's OPTIC-al strategy. Pass out a poster or chart tablet paper and markers to each small group of three or four. Ask groups to label their chart tablet similar to the model on slide 11, placing the letters “O-P-T-I-C” vertically with some space to write between the letters. Pass out one of the four attached pictures to each group. These pictures are labeled as A, B, C, and D. Tell groups that they will observe and unpack one representation of a "community".

Next, display slide 12. Ask participants to write down information about the picture following the O-P-T-I-C letter prompts on slide 12. Groups should also label their chart as A, B, C, or D to correspond with their picture.

Allow about 10–15 minutes for groups to discuss the picture and fill out their chart. Once finished, have groups place or cluster all the picture A OPTICs on one wall, all picture B OPTICs on another wall, all picture C Optics on a third wall, and all picture D Optics on the fourth wall.

Ask groups to choose a spokesperson for their chart to share all or part of what they observed. As you display slides 13–16, ask the spokesperson of the group whose image is displayed on the slide to share their observations. Based on the time available, you may either ask each group to share everything or ask each group to share specific letters. Share all OPTICs from each picture before moving on to the next picture.

After discussing the pictures. Ask participants to reflect on this strategy using the questions on slide 17: “How can this strategy be applied to the classroom?" and "Could this be used to build community with students?" Allow time for groups to discuss the strategy and share ideas for its application.


Pass out the attached Research Brief. Ask groups to number off one through three to implement a Jigsaw strategy. Display slide 18—the slide divides the research brief into three parts according to each person's number. Display slide 19 which explains the Categorical Highlighting strategy. Pass out two highlighters of different colors to each participant. As participants "jigsaw" the reading, ask them to highlight reasons for building community in one color and strategies for building community in another color. If highlighters are not available, participants can circle reasons for building a community and underline strategies for building a community.

Invite each group member who annotated a different section of the reading to share with group members the reasons for building community, and then strategies that build community (see slide 20). In the same order, invite a representative from each group to share at least one reason for building a community that they discussed and one strategy that encourages building a community. Ask participants to volunteer an answer to these questions: “Which part of the article resonated with something you currently do?” “Which part of the article was new or powerful?”

Have participants return to their Strategy Reflection handout. Display slide 21 and invite participants to reflect on the Jigsaw and Categorical Highlighting strategies and their potential applications in the classroom. Discuss as a whole group. Display slide 22 and give participants an opportunity to take a break.

Slides 23 and 24 contain brief video examples to reinforce the strategy modeled in the Engage phase. These strategies are also mentioned in the research brief regarding the importance of greeting students at the door. As the facilitator, determine if one or both videos are important for participants to view. The images on the slides link to the YouTube videos (This Teacher Has Different Handshakes with Each Student and 60-Second Strategy: TUMS at the Door). Full URLs for the videos can be found in the slide notes and in the Resources section below.

Display slide 25. The research brief mentions several strategies for building community—ask participants to continue working on their Strategy Reflection handout, addressing these strategies in particular. Have participants note ideas for the strategies' application with students. Invite volunteers to share ideas about how they might use some of these strategies.


Display slide 26. Remind participants that the research brief notes students can recognize the hypocrisy of a school climate that promotes a warm and caring culture while a classroom climate appears distant or neglectful. Both the classroom and school culture must offer and support some aspects of positive community-building.

Pass out three sticky notes to each participant. Display slide 27. Ask participants to reflect on everything they have read and discussed today. Ask participants to put the word "school" at the top of each sticky note. On each sticky note, participants should note what a positive school community looks like, feels like, and sounds like. Have group members discuss their sticky notes with each other and create a poster that reflects their shared understanding (see slide 28 for an example grid). As groups complete their posters, place them around the room. Have a spokesperson from each group share the component that is the most important to a positive school community (slide 29).


Ask participants to review all of the posters in the room. You can have groups rotate to each poster using a Gallery Walk strategy. As they review the other posters, ask participants to place stars or sticky notes beside statements or phrases they agree with. After the rotation is complete and as participants are returning to their seats, point out those statements that appealed to multiple groups and ask participants to share their reasoning.

Continue to slide 31. Have participants think about how they could use the "Looks Like, Feels Like, and Sounds Like" activity with their own students. Ask participants to record these ideas on their Strategy Reflection handout. Allow additional time for participants to share ANY strategies from their own experiences that might support building school or classroom community. Encourage participants to share ideas and record them in the space provided on the Strategy Reflection handout.

Display slide 32. Challenge participants to think about which strategy they might use this year to build community and how they might use it. Specific questions are shown on the slide to help guide participants' planning. Call on volunteers to share ideas.

Display slide 35, thanking participants and inviting their feedback. You may wish to add your contact information or another method for participants to provide feedback.

Research Rationale

Positive school communities are environments that promote a sense of belonging and connectedness with their members (Petrillo et al., 2016). They foster democratic values, civic participation, and collaborative discourse through students and teachers working together (Farmer et al., 2016, p. 209).Schools must be intentional and evidenced-based (Westheimer & Kahn, 1993) in their efforts to promote a positive school community. Stating a school mission or shared vision is in itself not enough to create a community; the evidence of this vision needs to be tangible throughout the school and in every classroom. Staff must work together to develop common routines and procedures that actively encourage respectful and supportive relationships among students, teachers, and parents. Students in schools with a strong, positive, and caring community are more likely to be academically motivated (Solomon, Battistich, Watson, Schaps, & Lewis, 2000), to act more ethically and altruistically (Schaps, Battistich, & Solomon, 1997), to develop social and emotional competencies (Solomon et al., 2000), and to avoid negative problem behaviors (Resnick et al., 1997).