A Community of Learners: May 18th with Heidi James at Colquitz Middle School

You are invited to Colquitz Middle School for the first #YYJedchat meet-up! The theme of this meet-up is community building in the classroom. 

Date: Wednesday, May 18
Time: 3:30-4:30pm
Face-to-face location: Colquitz Middle School
Online location: via video conference link and using your webcam and a browser
Register: please follow this link to add your name to the list.

* If you are unable to attend in person, or would prefer to connect online, you can still complete the form linked above, and select the “Online” option in the multi-access section. You will then be sent a link to the live video chat assuming you provide your email in the form as well. 


Developing a strong sense of community in our shared learning space is my highest priority in my middle school classroom. I begin long before we even meet by trying to learn a little about each child through transition events and by keeping our classroom decor to a minimum. I want the students to feel that our space is a place where they hold an integral role in designing.

I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to teach grade 6, as this grade is the learner’s first experience with middle school. There is often a heightened sense of anxiety as the new school year unfolds and learners switch schools, becoming the youngest in the group. This reinforces the need to come together as a community.

As soon as our class is assembled, I share my wish for our time together: a feeling of becoming a family. We hold a family meeting and discuss what that might look like and feel like. All of our social media accounts have “family” as part of the title: Our Twitter account @mrsjamesfamily, and we blog from MrsJamesFamily15. Each student has a role in ensuring that everyone feels safe in and beyond our classroom walls, and they take it pretty seriously!

Backchanneling Opportunities to Develop and Strengthen Classroom Community

Empowering learners to have a strong voice in the daily running of classroom routines and learning has become an integral part of how my community comes together. I try to provide ongoing opportunities for learners to speak with me and each other during class time and beyond school hours. This means providing safe access points to backchannels where the student voice dominates and the teacher presence is lighter. Some of the backchannel tools I use frequently in my classroom are TodaysMeet and the posting feature in our Google Classroom. Learners can “chat” while lessons unfold or while they are asked to apply their learning. They can work collaboratively without disturbing other learners, and can seek help instantaneously without waiting for a teacher to be available. This flattens our classroom walls and reduces the impact that structured scheduling has on learning. Learners can communicate and connect as needed in a seamless fashion!

A community does not materialize or sustain itself without continuous effort. This looks different with each group of learners and their varying needs. Some years, we’ve needed weekly family meetings to come together and share our lives and learning. Other years, I’ve had TToCs comment on how they felt like a guest in a room that did not actually require any adult intervention whatsoever! My learners welcomed the TToC, shared the plans for the day, and essentially carried on with the routines that were in place!

It brings me great joy to have the opportunity to learn alongside my little family of learners on a daily basis!

How Does This Connect to #yyjedchat?

As we launch #yyjedchat, we must consider that the ultimate goal of this resource is to foster a similar sense of community amongst a diverse group of lifelong learners. How can we include as many voices as possible? How can we bring people together from around the south island? What needs to happen to ensure that everyone feels welcomed and included?

The first #yyjedchat will explore the concept of becoming a community of learners, both within a classroom and beyond. We will share our ideas about how we all work to create our own classroom cultures and a sense of community in our classrooms. We will also explore how some of these same strategies might work to develop a strong sense of community for #yyjedchat.

We’d like to thank the #yyjedchat community for the opportunity to host an event, and we are looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible!

2 thoughts on “A Community of Learners: May 18th with Heidi James at Colquitz Middle School”

  1. A Preservice Teacher’s Thoughts on Community in the Classroom:

    As a second year pre-service teacher I hear from professors, practicing teachers, education assistants, and more experienced preservice teachers that the sense of community you foster in your classroom is the most important indicator of your success as a teacher. However, from what I’ve seen, every teacher seems to go about this differently.

    Some try to forge relationships between themselves and their students, but not necessarily worry about the relationships between students. Some work to build the relationships between students, but not worry so much about the relationships between themselves and the students. Some avoid tech to remove potential distraction, and others embrace it to help create an even larger, more connected community. Some use a partial combination of everything, and others have completely different strategies. With so many different ways to connect it will be fascinating to hear about how you create community in your classroom!

    Rebecca Benner – A Preservice Teacher Partner for Heidi James’ #YYJedchat Event

  2. My Personal Preservice Teacher’s Thoughts on Community in the Classroom:

    During our first practicum Rebecca and I have learned how significant it is to establish a sense of community inside and outside the classroom. The school we taught at offered a variety of enrichment programs and clubs for students to become actively involved and grow together as not only as learners but also as community builders. Each student had a place where they could interact with other students from their own class and other classes. The students had a choice of fun opportunities to become active in their school community. They could join their peers in musical theatre, home economics, sports teams, band practice, choir practice, cycling club, origami club, skateboarding club and much more! They could even become involved in a Minecraft club Heidi James had organized. With this in mind, we wondered of ways how to make our students feel like they were a part of something much greater.
    Additionally, when co-teaching our P.E lessons we made sure our objective would focus on strengthening team building skills and peer relationships. We incorporated games that required cooperation and teamwork. With big smiles on our students’ faces they told us they had a lot of fun playing these types of games.
    We were also fortunate to participate in other school community building opportunities. For instance, on our second day of practicum there was an African drumming and dancing workshop in which students from different classes danced together in the gym. Even some of the teachers danced too!
    Similarly, the “Farm to School” Lunch program was another fantastic community building opportunity. Working together, our class cooked and prepared lunch for each and every student in the school and the entire school staff. It was inspiring to see the more experienced “little chefs” help their classmates who have never cooked anything before. Also, the food was absolutely delicious!
    Another great opportunity for community building was on Earth day. Our class helped clean up the school by working together in groups sorting out the recycling, and picking up garbage around the school grounds. However, I think some of the students had mistaken tidying up for treasure hunting.
    Ultimately, establishing a strong class community is essential for a learning environment to perform effectively. As teachers, we must encourage and empower students to become actively involved in their community. We should provide various opportunities for all students, staff, and parents to help improve our community. It is our responsibility for each student to feel a sense of belonging inside and outside the school.

    Christine Tischer – A Preservice Teacher Partner for Heidi James’ #YYJedchat Event

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