Building a classroom community isn’t a first day of class activity.  Facilitating and maintaining a positive, productive learning environment requires intentional attention throughout the semester.  The following strategies will offer a variety of ways to connect with students, to help students connect with each other, and to facilitate a safe, respectful environment in which students take ownership and responsibility for the community.   

Strategies to Foster Positive, Productive Classroom Communities

  • Learn your students’ names.  Call them by name.  If remembering names is difficult for you, use tent cards during the first few weeks of class.  Take pictures with your cell phone (your entire class, small groups, or individuals) and connect their names to their faces. Another way is to create a seating chart once the students choose their seats.  Study it after the first few classes to try to memorize their names. 
  • Arrive to class early enough to listen to student conversations and to engage in conversations with your students.  The former allows you to hear their concerns, preferences or fears about their classes which can inform your own practice. The latter allows you to connect with them on a personal level. 
  • Tell stories – Cognitive science tells us that the brain is constantly searching for meaning, and stories allow you to put content into context and make it more memorable.  It also makes class, and you, more human.
  • Participate as a member of the community of learners.  Show your own inquisitiveness; share your questions and conundrums.  Demonstrate enthusiasm for the subject and for their connection to it.   
  • Empower students to take ownership over their own learning and community.  Design class activities to require their participation and contributions through small group discussions, collaborative decision-making, projects, or presentations.  
  • Avoid asking questions that have only one correct answer.  That is not a discussion.  Ask questions that allow for multiple perspectives.  Ask questions as though you really want to know what they think, not because you want to see if they have the right answers (Quizzes or student response systems are good for that).  Even better, have them come to class with two of their own questions, genuine wonderings or places for clarification regarding the reading or outside-of-class assignments.  Then have them gather in small groups and answer each other’s questions.  It’s exciting and even inspiring to see them negotiate their own understandings and teach each other.  Then have the groups share out their most challenging questions and what conclusion(s) the group came to.  Discussing these as a whole class can often introduce or even replace the lecture.  The instructor gets to fill in the gaps and elaborate on the content using the student’s questions/answers as a springboard.   For more ideas about asking questions and facilitating effective discussions, visit our web page on Class Discussions.
  • Establish an environment of safety based on mutual trust and protection.  Let your students know you will expect honest and respectful dialogue and diverse opinions, but that you will guard each community member’s dignity, and you expect them to do the same. Show compassion.  Everyone has life happen.  Some of your students may be insecure academically, financially, emotionally.  They may have recently experienced loss, tragedy, homelessness.  Your interactions with them speak volumes about your valuing them as individuals.  Yes, deadlines are deadlines, but before you enforce that in a given situation, listen; then decide.  Yes, that takes a few moments, and yes, that is not as easy as a blanket policy, but if your mother were diagnosed with cancer, or you were in a car wreck, or your dad lost his job and your tuition money just disappeared, or you were sexually assaulted, you might have a hard time getting that project done too.  Be human.  Communities are made of humans.
  • Send an introductory email and/or video before the course begins. Include:
    • Meeting dates/times/location
    • What to expect for the first class (and beyond)
    • What to expect from you as a professor
    • Syllabus
    • Your hopes for them this semester
    • Ask them if there is anything they might want you to know to help them be successful in the course.
  • Consider the images used in your slides; do they represent the diversity in your classroom? Do they answer the student question, “Do I belong here?”
  • Survey your students to get to know them. Ask them questions such as: Their interest in the course/subject and any positive or negative history with the subject
    • One thing that might interfere with their success in the course 
    • Their expectations for you as the instructor
    • Ways they learn best
  • “People give their attention to those who pay attention to them,” (Lang, 2016), so focus on student-centered teaching, not instructor-centered teaching. Address something they posted or said; ask others to respond. 
  • Affirm that the Saint Leo Core Values of Community and Respect are YOUR values. 
  • Article:  Begin the Semester with Classroom Community Building Activities to Increase Student Engagement
  • Article:  Six Check-in Ideas to Build Community in College Classrooms 


Lang, J. (2016) Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. Jossey-Bass.