Skip to main content

Building Classroom Community

 Whether you’re teaching in-person, remotely, or in a hybrid modality, it’s 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, building a classroom community creates a safe learning environment for all students that translates to outside the classroom as well. As students (and faculty) continue to experience both in-person and virtual teaching, we want to share a few strategies that can help build community regardless of the teaching/learning 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 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. Repeat the information in your course shell on Canvas so students have multiple access points to information.

  • 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? 

One way to learn more about them is to Invite them to your office hours. Here are some simple steps you can take to encourage students to utilize your office hours:

  1. Clarify the Purpose: Early in the term, explain what office hours are for and encourage all students to attend. Dispel any misconceptions they might have about office hours being only for those struggling or in trouble (Condis, 2016).
  2. Remove Barriers: Make sure students know where your office is located. Provide clear directions and keep your door open during office hours (Condis, 2016). Make scheduling easy for your students. Some faculty use tools like to have students schedule directly, based on their availability.
  3. Promote a Positive Environment: Use welcoming language when advertising office hours. Let students know you’re there to support their learning and that they’re not bothering you by showing up (Garrett-Ostermiller, 2018).
  4. Incentivize Attendance: Consider making office hour attendance part of an assignment or offer extra credit. Some faculty build an office hour visit into group assignments, for example. If your class size allows, you could require students to attend once or twice per term.
  5. Virtual Office Hours: For virtual office hours, be consistent with your schedule and provide easy access links. Use tools like Zoom with a waiting room feature to manage privacy and one-on-one interactions (Orr, 2020).

In addition, 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 or group work.

 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.

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)


Tanner, 2013: Structure Matters: Twenty-One Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity
Penner, 2018: Building an Inclusive Classroom
Condis, 2018: How to convince students to attend office hours 
Garrett-Ostermiller, 2018: Welcoming and Supporting Students During Office Hours
Nunn, L. (2019) 33 Strategies for Faculty: A Week-by-Week Resource for Teaching First-Year and First-Generation students (ebook from our library) (summary)
Orr, 2020: 5 Ideas for Virtual Office Hours

 Authors: Patti Simone and Justin Boren, Faculty Collaborative