5 resources for building community

Starting how you mean to go on

#1st5days icon: which word will define your start to the new school year?New year, new students. New school, sometimes, and a whole new opportunity to help a group of students celebrate and explore their individuality while respecting and appreciating each other’s differences. And yours, too.

Let’s explore five resources for building community in your classroom during the #1st5days.

1. Edutopia’s “Appreciation, Apology, Aha!”

Edutopia has built a strategy for building — and maintaining — a healthy, supportive classroom culture. They call it Appreciation, Apology, Aha, (video link) for the three options they give students every day as the classroom community gathers. It’s a neat shorthand for three relatable impulses students can share with you and their peers as they change and grow.

  • An appreciation: hey, everyone likes to be recognized for the good work they do.
  • An apology: possibly the most under-rated skill you can learn (in school or anywhere else). Being given the space to make a heartfelt apology allows students to realize two things. One, they can admit when they fall short without being punished for the failing, and two, they have a set, defined space to try to make amends. And that my friends, is amazing.
  • An aha! How awesome is your class when students know they can share some small but meaningful realization and be appreciated for that sharing.


2. Language matters

If you’re looking for a resource on respectful and inclusive language use with an intersectional lens, this guide from The Sum of Us (.pdf) breaks down how and why to avoid unintentional marginalization. This guide has sections on major categories of identity, such as gender, race, class, ability, citizenship status and many more.

progressive style guide for the #1st5days

It comes from the heart and can help you and your students find words that embrace and encourage each other. It is so therapeutic to speak and write with inclusion, and avoid othering.

3. How to have a civil discourse

Over the course of the year you know you and your students will be tackling some big topics pertaining to social change. Tolerance.org has published this set of lesson plans (.pdf) on how to have civil discourses in your classroom. Talking through issues of equity, discrimination and change is difficult, necessary work, and it can really help to have some guidelines for saying the hard stuff in inclusive and supportive ways.

How to approach someone with a different viewpoint and engage with rather than enrage them is a vital skill. Kudos, Tolerance.org!

Locally, our own rockstar librarian Jeanie Phillips has gathered Resources for Talking About Race with your students, a full and growing list that can support you as you and your students do the work.resources for talking about race #1st5days

In a similar vein, Phillips and educator and author Katy Farber have collated a series of resources for unpacking such topics as sexual harassment, sexism and consent.

You’re not alone as you try to create a space where change, understanding and acceptance are the norm. We’re all trying to make this a better place.

4. Make time for mindfulness


All of this is a lot, y’all.

Not just these #1st5days, but … this. gestures around at the world in general

Focusing on learning can be challenging under optimal circumstances, but most of us come to our learning carrying something or other in the way of baggage. Your students can be the same.

And that’s where mindfulness comes in.

Emily Hoyler, VT sustainability educator and coach, shared how she used mindfulness with her sixth graders at Bingham Memorial School, in Cornwall VT. She created a classroom routine where she and her students sat in silent mindfulness for a few minutes every day.

resources for building community: mindfulness
6th graders at Bingham Memorial School take a moment to relax and regroup.

The results?

Her students reported that 70% of them felt they gained a positive impact from the experience. They told her they carried the practice into their own out-of-school lives and saw the benefits there as well. The students were slower to get angry or frustrated. They felt less impulsive.

Frankly that sold our staff on mindfulness right there. Hoyler also includes a list of digital apps she found useful in establishing the practice.

But mindfulness is more than sitting still.

Meet The Mindfulness Calendar

Educator Megan Kelly, (who is amazing, we’ve checked) has created a full Mindfulness Calendar template.

resources for building community: the mindfulness calendar


With this template (go grab it from Kelly’s site; she’s very kindly made it freely available), you and your students can come up with a list of activities that cultivate mindfulness. They may be free reading, or goal-setting. They could be asking someone about their day, or treating yourself to a viewing of your favorite movie.

Using a mindfulness calendar in this way makes you and your students remember to stop; look up and out, and reconnect with the world in a way that honors your and their place in it.

5. Plan out your procedures

A new year, new classroom, new teacher — it can all feel a little overwhelming. But what if you could plan out what the little things could look like? Remove some of the ambiguity by setting some guidelines out up front for the routines that make a classroom run.

Educator Meredith Akers has a template for this.

resources for building community: a purposeful plan for procedures by Meredith Akers


“Create a Purposeful Plan for Procedures” such as leaving class for the restroom (so daunting until you know!), getting up to get supplies or maintaining an acceptable noise level in the classroom. Ask your students what they need to see on the plan, then talk through setting a procedure to make it a no-brainer. Never have a student wonder how to get up and get to the restroom again. CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE.

How do you build community with your students in the #1st5days?

Audrey Homan

Audrey Homan is a Vermont-based digital media producer, and producer of The 21st Century Classroom podcast. She's worked in non-profit communications for more than a decade, and in her spare time writes tiny video games and mucks about with augmented reality and arduinos, ably assisted by five dogs. Interviewing students and yelling in PHP are the best parts of her job.

35 thoughts on “5 resources for building community

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