May 27th, 2008

Building Trust and Community in a Class


It’s Saturday morning, not yet 8:30 a.m. Eighty-three elementary and secondary education teachers are arriving for an eight hour class—part of a two-year masters degree program. Conversations buzz around the large auditorium style room. People meet, greet and move around the room. The background music is energetic. Pictures flash on the large screen at the front of the room. They show students completing a messy mask-making project. Then there’s snapshots taken at the recent marriage of a couple students in the class. These are followed by several pictures of new babies. By the time 8:30 arrives, noise rolls around the room. The four teachers responsible for the course mingle here and there, drinking coffee, answering questions, laughing and making small talk with students.

Abruptly the music changes. It mirrors the soft color palette now on the screen. A question flashes up. It asks about something that happened in the previous class session. A number of written comments follow—some positive, some questioning, some critical, some humorous. Around the room conversations are concluded. The class settles down. Some of the comments generate quiet laughter. Class has begun and students are ready to learn.

Earlier in the week someone asked me how you create trust and community in a classroom. I gave an academic answer—it’s more about what you do than what you say, it takes time, it’s depends on relationships. It’s not that my answer was wrong, just that this class offered an example so much more compelling. It not only showed how, it made the case for why!

—Maryellen Weimer