By making the time to build the relationships that allow learners to feel a sense of community- that they are “in this together”- teachers create a safer, more equitable environment where all students participate and achieve.

Students in schools and classrooms with a strong sense of community are more likely to:

  • Be academically motivated (Solomon et al., 2000).
  • Act ethically and altruistically (Schaps, Battistich, & Solomon, 1997).
  • Develop social and emotional competencies (Solomon et al., 2000).


The Developmental Studies Center’s Research on the Child Development Project has identified four key components of a caring classroom community (Schaps et al, 2003):

  • Mutually respectful, supportive relationships between students, teachers, and parents.
  • Frequent opportunities for students to help and collaborate with others.
  • Frequent opportunities for student voice and agency, including over the classroom shared agreements, how conflicts are resolved, and what content is studied.
  • A sense of shared purpose and ideals among all members of the classroom.


SEL teams can foster community-building in all classrooms by supporting teachers in developing and collaborating on consistent developmentally appropriate strategies. These may include learning about their students’ interests, lived experiences, and cultural backgrounds; providing opportunities for parents to engage in classrooms; developing structures for students to get to know each other; and listening to students’ feedback on classroom instruction or procedures (see this tool to guide staff chats with students to strengthen relationships and seek feedback).

Classroom Shared Agreements

Creating classroom shared agreements is a powerful strategy for developing a sense of community. These agreements reflect students’ shared understanding of how they wish to be treated and will treat one another, and connect to the school’s vision and schoolwide norms. Prominently displayed in the classroom, they reinforce SEL and help create a shared sense of purpose and ideals.

To support classroom shared agreements:

Include all students, especially those who don’t normally speak up, in writing the agreements.

Make sure all students feel comfortable with the agreements.

Revisit classroom shared agreements frequently; for example, to set the tone before a lesson, or as a reflection and self-assessment tool following a lesson or activity.





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Sample Lesson Plan: Generating Classroom Shared Agreements

This tool provides guidance for creating classroom shared agreements, which reflect students’ shared understanding of how they wish to be treated and will treat one another.


Additional Resource: Teaching Tolerance Professional Development: A New Set of Rules

Community Building Circles

Regular class meetings, often conducted while seated in a circle, can be used to build a sense of belonging and trusting relationships as well as a way to introduce academic content.  In elementary classrooms this may be a daily or weekly practice.  In middle and high school classrooms, consider facilitating circles at the beginning of a semester, after a break from school, to begin and end a unit, during advisory periods or extracurricular club meetings, or to process current events.  Building circles into your schedule on a consistent basis will increase the effectiveness, by building on the relationships and skills that are developed each time students participate.


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Community Building Circles

This tool includes planning considerations, a set up checklist, a recommended circle process and planning template, and four sample circle scripts for middle and high school classrooms.


Setting Up Physical Space for Community

The space teachers create for their students matters, and can encourage students to think of themselves as an interdependent community of learners.

Consider the following strategies to set up your physical space for a sense of community:

  • Designate whole-group meeting spots (e.g., carpet area), preferably away from students’ tables.
  • Create displays for student work and interactive bulletin boards, and invite students to contribute.
  • Build students’ sense of ownership and self-management skills by setting up a class library and storage area that students are responsible for maintaining.
  • Establish a space where students can voluntarily go to cool down or talk through challenges or conflicts (for example, a Peace Area).
  • Ensure that images around your classroom space reflect a diversity in culture, race, experience, gender, age, etc.

Note: A school’s efforts at SEL are more likely to succeed if you consistently make space to discuss SEL implementation. Grade-level team meetings are an excellent time to support reflection, inquiry, and collaboration among teachers.

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Using Grade-Level Team Meetings to support a Positive Classroom Culture

This tool provides guidance for using grade-level team meetings to collaborate and reflect on strategies for building positive classroom cultures


Here are a few additional tools to support classroom community building:


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