Community building is central to who we are as Catholic educators. We assume this and intentionally build communities that foster love, service to others and create a sense of belonging. Woven into academic teaching and learning are the recognition of students’ personal needs and deliberatively modeling what we value into the fabric of their learning. Our school communities provide an additional “home away from home” for a student, no matter what the ability or social level, as well as a place of transformation of the ordinary.
These are the things I like to see when visiting classrooms:
Giving students multiple opportunities to share parts of their lives in varied ways—Student choice, diverse curriculum and the encouragement of student voices are all indicators that students are respected and listened to. Our focus is not only on learning, but also recognizing the unique individuality of every student.
Providing time for collaboration and student-to-student interaction—A buzz in a classroom; peer teaching and cross-age tutoring are all ways not only of assisting diverse learners but also building one-to-one connections among students.
Acknowledging what’s good—“Catching students being good” gives the recognition students need for community as well as building self-esteem whether on the elementary or secondary level. Students applauding others give the highest level of praise. Additionally, everyone gains from a public acknowledgement of what’s going well, evidence of high-quality work and voicing insightful comments.
Checking in and monitoring the lives of groups—Having students share their struggles with schoolwork and building in times within a class or school day in which students can personally express their opinions in a supportive environment allows them the time to be heard—and everyone needs to be heard.
Modeling what we teach—The more kindness, warmth and compassion that teachers convey the more students will learn, grow and connect. Walking into a classroom, I can instantly feel the environment and what radiates from it.
Grace Lee Boggs in The Next American Revolution wrote:
We urgently need to bring to our communities the limitless capacity to love, serve, and create for and with each other. We urgently need to bring the neighbor back into our hoods, not only in our inner cities but also in our suburbs, or gated communities, on Main Street and Wall Street, and on Ivy League campuses.
Catholic school classrooms, whether they are located in low income urban areas or high income suburbs contribute to this paradigm by developing leaders of connection, who love, serve and interact with each other in enhancing the richness of this world.