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Matthew Hurwitz


Family Action Project: Entry #1

What is a classroom learning community? This phrase, and others like it, is
present in almost every reading that weve had throughout the year on educational
theory, classroom management, and teaching pedagogy. Its something that you
know when you see, but which is hard to define, because its very teacher-specific.
To me, a classroom learning community is one in which the students, teacher, and
parents all have a synchronized, productive, and respectful relationship with each
other that has as the end goal the academic success of the student. To get to this end
point, my strategy to promote and build a classroom learning community will focus
on respect, multiculturalism, and promoting open dialogue and analysis among all
people involved in the learning process.
Perhaps the most important quality of a classroom learning community, and
one that will be my main priority in establishing, is respect. Respect is a crucial
element to any learning community, not only in respect to classroom management,
but also because respect is often the foundation to other qualities that are essential,
like trust. Building teacher-student, student-student, and teacher-parent
relationships requires a high level of respect and trust on both sides. A student has
to trust that the teacher has their best interests at heart in order to lower their
affective filters, and they have to trust their fellow students enough to speak freely
and openly in class without being afraid of snickering, laughing, or being made to
feel inadequate if he/she happens to get an answer wrong. When I was in school, the
single biggest thing that kept me from feeling like I was part of a classroom learning
community was the fact that I didnt feel like I could trust my fellow students and be
open in class, despite the fact that I was friends with many of them outside of class.
Part of this student-teacher relationship that revolves around respect and trust
involves the teacher taking active steps to promote a class and community
atmosphere where students, as well as parents to a lesser extent, feel like they have
the freedom to be honest. One of the things Im going to try during the first week of
school is to get the students to bond with each other not socially, but academically,
by giving them some kind of academic treasure hunt using texts and historical
pictures, and giving students a chance to demonstrate their existing knowledge
through early informal assessments that allow students to exhibit their skills not
only to me as the teacher, but also to each other. These exercises, in addition to
general community building activities like bringing in artifacts, or find someone
who will go a long way towards establishing respect, and through respect achieve
trust and through trust establish a classroom community.
Although a majority of my efforts will be based in the classroom, part of the
process of building a classroom community involves going beyond the traditional
definition of the word community, which revolves around the school communities
that we create in our classes, and reaching out to the wider community of parents,
loved ones, and other student support networks. Respect and trust are not as easy
to establish in this wider community, partly because the amount of interaction Ill
have with them in much more restricted and limited that my interaction with
students on a daily basis, but also because parents are fiercely protective of their
kids. I anticipate, based on my observation of my own parents in high school, that
parents will be both apathetic and aggressive in establishing a teacher-parent
relationship, and in their involvement and commitment to that relationship. My
parents were very involved in my learning, and would gladly have become involved
in school and classroom activities if they had been asked, but felt no need to actively
seek out my teacher to volunteer, and were pleasant to my teachers, but never had a
close relationship with any of them that would make them put in the extra time and
effort of working with them on a more involved level. I dont necessarily think that I
should be aiming to become close to the parents of my students, but next year I
would like to do more than interact with them only on back to school night, and plan
on seeking out parent involvement in things like fields trips, college fairs,
fundraisers etc. and let parents know that I want and value their input to enhance
the learning their kids are already receiving.
Part of creating a classroom learning community and building up trust and
respect is classroom management. While building a sense of community requires
action on the part of teachers, parents, and students, classroom management to me
is about what the teacher does to enforce that respect and trust. Talking about
community and doing community buildings activities is great, but at some point, a
student will end up saying something insensitive or mean, and its the job of the
teacher to first work proactively to prevent mean outburst, and secondly, to
respond in an appropriate fashion once the incident has occurred. Thus, classroom
management means preparing for and dealing with things that will get in the way of
student learning. Although this primarily refers to behavior that could impede
learning, I think it also applies to things like classroom layout, teacher preparedness
every day, clarity of instruction, differentiation, and a guiding hand that makes sure
that student transition smoothly from one task to another.
Classroom management as well as the ability to build a classroom
learning community doesnt rest entirely on lesson plans and respect. Although a
large part of it, the way that I approach my overall teaching is just as important to
the success of my students. One of my goals for next year is to use the Socio-Cultural
Learning Theory more often and more effectively to reach students on all levels and
regardless of what part of history were studying. Creating content that draws on
students prior knowledge has been difficult this year, partly because Im not with
the class every day and havent formed the kind of relationships with students that
would allow me to easily present them with content they could connect their lives
to, partly because I dont have a lot of experience with it, and partly also because the
class doesnt feel like its mine. One of my goals next year is to continue practicing
incorporating the Socio-Cultural Learning theory into my lessons, connecting
student lives to content and making my teaching less about direct instruction and
more about community learning and instruction, which ties into the goal of creating
a community learning classroom.
The other theory that informs my approach to classroom learning
community and classroom management is the Zone of Proximal Development. The
ZPD is another theory that I dont feel like Ive had enough practice in, but its one of
my priorities for my teaching going forward, especially when it comes to classroom
learning community. The classroom learning community, with its safe and inclusive
environment, is great, but the point of creating that space of trust and respect is to
get to a place where I as the teacher can push a student out of his comfort zone
without having his shut down or withdraw. Stepping outside the bounds of what
youre comfortable with is hard and scary, and although the classroom environment
may be such that other students wont laugh at you, a student needs to know that
the teacher is going to support and encourage them as well. A classroom learning
community is important, but the ZPD approach to teaching in a classroom learning
community is even more important, and is what will help drive student towards
being the best they can be academically.
The learning process is a complex one, requiring layers of teacher, parent,
and student support from many places, and its a process that has to be repeated
every year. Getting everyone involved in a students life involved and on the same
page is essential to creating a true classroom learning community, and not just a
community that exists only on school grounds. Creating a multi-tiered and inclusive
community helps to reinforce the kind of respect and trust that I as the teacher am
trying to instill in students at the beginning of the year through community building
activities, and throughout the rest of the year in my teaching pedagogy. Using the
Socio-Cultural Learning theory and the ZPD as foundations of my teaching strategies
will help me in weaving relevant and engaging material that creates a sense of
community and trust, while allowing me to push students out of their comfort zone
and maximize their learning.