Your classroom community determines the academic success and social enjoyment of the students within your class. A respectful, hard-working classroom environment will make the teacher’s life more enjoyable and rewarding as well. Building a positive classroom community that supports a sense of belonging, engagement, and pride starts from the very first day of school.

Teachers and students start with a blank canvas each school year, and by setting the tone with team-building activities and conversations during the first week of school, students will feel the positive energy from the get-go.

Here are 10 meaningful ways to build a positive classroom community during the first week of school.

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1. Display a class “family photo” wall

Students love to see their photos and schoolwork hung around the classroom! It builds a sense of belonging and reminds students that they are where they’re meant to be each school day. At the beginning of the year, create a small bulletin board displaying a photo of each student and title the board “Class Family.”

If you want to kick it up a notch, have students label their photos with a chosen character trait that they feel is one of their best attributes. As you discuss what it means to be a family during the first week of school, you might choose to read aloud Our Class is a Family by Shannon Olsen.

2. Make a learning goals poster to display in the room

When setting the tone the first week of school, we want to try our best to get kids excited about their own learning and engagement. There are a lot of different ways to display goals for the school year, but it can be as simple as recording one goal per student on an anchor chart. This hanging display will serve as a reminder that students have common goals and interests at school.

3. Unite the class with bracelets

This idea may have stemmed from COVID days of at-home learning, but it’s also so powerful in the classroom. Hand out matching friendship bracelets to students and discuss how they unite the class as one. Students feel an instant connection when they see everyone in their class wearing the same bracelet for the same purpose: to show that we care about each other in our classroom, and that everyone belongs.

4. Introduce individual awards in the classroom led by students

Beginning the first week of school, introduce an end-of-day routine where a student presents a peer with an award. Taking this moment to celebrate each other motivates students and creates the positive environment we strive for.

Have awards available, like “Learning Enthusiast” and “Makes Our Day,” and ask a student to award this title to a classmate with an explanation. The student accepting the award can proudly display it on their desk the following school day. This is a great way to end the school day and build community from the start. Try to make a wide variety of awards so that all students get celebrated at some point!

5. Hand out desk notes

Remember the desk pet craze? Some of us are probably still living in that craze, but older students might appreciate a desk note just as much. These are fun messages and notes that the teacher can tape to desks of deserving students. Make your life easier by laminating the notes for re-use. You can even add a personal note with a dry-erase marker on the back of the desk note.

Notes might read “I’m happy you’re here” or “You nailed it!” It’s a fun surprise for students to see that their teacher is personally acknowledging them, fostering a positive relationship from the first week of school. Be sure to keep track of who receives desk notes so that you can spread the love to all.

6. Create visible and invisible identity portraits

During the first week of school, spend some time celebrating the uniqueness of each student. Discuss what makes each student special, then present the idea of self-portraits that display both the inner and outer versions of students. Students will draw an image of their face, but half the face will represent the visible features you see on the outside and the other half will show what is invisible on the inside of someone, like their interests and hobbies. These make a fun display and help students to get to know each other, which is vital for building new friendships at the start of a school year.

7. Make an anchor chart about what makes a good friend

Together with your class, make an anchor chart that discusses what students look for in good friends. Although it’s important to focus on the traits we do seek out, it is also helpful to acknowledge unwanted behaviors as well. Incorporating kindness activities into the first week of school reminds students that respect is a top priority in your classroom community.

8. Check in on students’ first-day feelings

From the start, it’s vital that students’ feelings are seen and validated. By providing an opportunity for students to check-in emotionally, whether through an anchor chart of feelings or a google form, you can show your students that you care about their feelings. After all, you can’t learn if you aren’t feeling well. Be sure to emphasize that all feelings are welcome and that support is available when needed. This creates a sense of safety in your classroom community.

9. Create a class puzzle to show that students “fit in”

Visual displays to reinforce attributes of a positive community are always helpful. During the first week of school, have students decorate a puzzle piece that represents themselves. Fit the pieces together for a class display that shows each student fits into the classroom.

10. Develop a treatment agreement

In addition to creating the usual class rules poster, it is also beneficial to develop standards for how people will interact in your classroom community. A treatment agreement shows how students will interact with each other, with teachers, and with guests. This provides standards by which kids can feel safe and be called to a high standard of behavior in your classroom.

The treatment agreement is called an agreement because it is made with the input of the students. By having a section of the agreement on the teacher to student relationship, you also show your students that you are committing to treating them in a safe, kind, and reasonable manner.

This agreement is a visual for the type of classroom community you are all committed to. Hopefully it is one filled with respect, kindness, and patience!

Building a positive classroom community can be exhausting during the first weeks of school as you repeat expectations and strive to excite students about the start of the school year. However, setting this tone creates success for the entire school year! It will be well worth it.

10 Classroom Community Building Tips to Start the School Year