To build community this fall, think of your class as a team

Many educators are concerned about building community within their classes this fall. And rightfully so. We know that in-person experiences create opportunities for students to form deep relationships, make personal connections, and build a sense of community. We know that students are more likely to flourish in school when they feel a sense of belonging and connection. How do we achieve those aims in a remote or hybrid context?

Young elementary school student at a home computer attending virtual school.

Zachary Herrmann, executive director of Penn Graduate School of Education’s Center for Professional Learning, suggests changing your approach. Here, Herrmann explains how—and why—educators should think of their classes as teams rather than a collection of individual students.

Effective teams often embody the same characteristics that teachers are striving toward, such as a strong sense of connection, support, purpose, and accountability.

According to research on teams, there are certain conditions that support team effectiveness, including that the team is a “real team,” has a compelling direction, and has a sound structure, among others. Teachers can consider how to build these conditions into their classes. Real teams have a unique identity, and team members share a common purpose. Members of real teams work interdependently on tasks for which they have collective accountability.

Even when members of a team feel tied together, their collective sense of purpose and meaning may not be activated without a compelling direction. Given that so many of our students and teachers are experiencing significant levels of uncertainty and ambiguity in their personal and social lives, students who feel disconnected from their school work may be even quicker to disengage. To build a true sense of team, a class’s compelling direction must be more than simply to prepare for the next test.

Read more at Penn GSE.