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Building Classroom Community

Whether you’re teaching in-person, remotely, or in a hybrid modality, it is important to build a collaborative classroom community of mutual trust, respect, and understanding. It is a critical step in getting to know the students, their learning interests, and their experiences. More importantly, it creates a safe learning environment for all students that translates to outside the classroom as well. As students (and faculty) continue to experience both virtual and in-person teaching, we want to share a few strategies that can help build community regardless of the modality.
Share Information and Be Transparent
Students juggle a lot of information as they transition from class-to-class. It is important to clearly communicate expectations of learning with your students. Review the course syllabus with them and highlight key information that may help them plan for your course (important due dates, assignment descriptions, grading rubrics, etc.). Encourage students to ask questions about your syllabus as well. It may also be helpful to repeat the information in your course shell on Canvas so students have multiple access points to information. It can also be helpful to create a classroom agreement with students so that everyone is aware of the expectations and class values around participation.
Get to Know Your Students
We’ve heard from SCU faculty time and time again that students appreciate the opportunity to connect with their instructor. It humanizes their course experience and helps them feel like they are a part of a wider community on campus. Get to know your students’ prior and current learning experiences, career aspirations, interests, and motivation for being in your course! What do they hope to learn from you? In a remote/hybrid experience, students may be encouraged to post introductions in the discussion boards, create videos and other artifacts about their lives, and participate in icebreakers and community-building activities.
Collaborate with Students and the Importance of Talking
Working with students (in addition to teaching them) can also help strengthen the classroom community. Encourage students to talk about what are agreed upon class rules and safe protocols and write them down. These classroom agreements can be changed at any time but this helps students feel they have a say in creating a safe learning environment. For example, students may generate “rules” for class discussions about sensitive topics or how to approach one another if there is a disagreement in their partnerships.
It may also be helpful to ask students for their feedback about the course. This can be about the assignments, the grading, content they like or don’t like. All of this information helps to inform your teaching before the end of the quarter and it also helps students to vocalize what strategies can improve their learning. Students also want to hear from their instructors! Jump in on the discussion boards on Camino or listen in on their in-person group work to provide feedback/guidance or a different perspective. Regardless of the modality, giving students an opportunity to work with you and together helps strengthen their understanding of the course content and stretch their learning to beyond the classroom.

Check out the infographic from the Scholarly Teacher for more information:

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Additional Resources

Classroom Community Ideas and Strategies
Concrete Strategies for Building Community (Carnegie Melon)
Community Building Strategies (Columbia)
How Can I Foster Community in my Class? (University of Western Ontario)
Developing Class Participation Agreements (UMass)
Classroom Civility (UC Santa Cruz)


Harvard Graduate School of Education. (n.d.). Building community. Instructional Moves.

Penner, M. R. (2018). Building an inclusive classroomJournal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education.

Sochacki, J. (March 23, 2020). A checklist for building community in the online classroom. Faculty Focus.

Tanner, K. D. (2013). Structure matters: Twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity. CBE Life Sciences Education.

Wehler, M. (July 11, 2018). Five ways to build community in online classrooms. Faculty Focus.


Page author: Lisa Chang, PhD, Faculty Development

Last updated: February 27, 2023