Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lil' Durk Time: Building Community within the Classroom

Apparently there is a new up-and-coming, Chicago-based rapper.  Lil' Durk.

How do I know this? Well my students were taking a survey for my Peer Advocate (more about this down below) so that he could learn more about them.  One of the survey questions: Who is your favorite artist?  As I creeped over their shoulders, I learned that many of them really liked Lil' Durk.

Image result for lil durk

Side note.  Yes... that's his name.  It's really stupid.  Let's be real.

After I made a joke about how ridiculous of a name that was and how I didn't believe that he was even a real person, it made me start thinking.  You see, I have been working on a pilot program in the First-Year Composition Program called the Peer Advocate (PA) Program.  Holy program.  The goal of the program is to help retention rates, a problem that is plaguing college campuses nationwide.  As a cohort leader/trainer of PAs, I always tell my students that the real goal of this is to get them connected to one another.  In all honesty, it doesn't matter how cool a college campus is.  It doesn't matter if the football team is amazing or if there is great Greek Life.  

If students don't connect with one another, why would they stay?

This program, although it is a pilot, is large scale.  It involves 30 students being attached to 30 FYComp classes with 25 students per class.  That's a total of 750 incoming Freshman being impacted!  While the PAs have successfully completed the FYComp classes themselves, their goal isn't necessarily to help the students in class.  Instead, they invite students to events, attend club meetings, and take them out for pizza.

Like I said, this is large scale.  But what can we, as teachers, do right now? What can we do in our classes without having to ask for approval, form committees, and run pilot programs?  

Here's a list of 5 things you can put in place in your classroom today to help start build community with your students this week.

  1. Lil' Durk Time:  Like I mentioned above, my students love Lil' Durk.  However, every Monday in my class we discuss deep topics like gender, sexuality, race, and religion.  I want to loosen them up and have them connect on a human level before we get into these heated discussions. So, I have them sit in different groups each week and give them one odd ball question to get discussion flowing: This is our "Lil' Durk Time".  Questions like: What's the worst song on the radio? or What's the best movie you've seen lately? give them a chance to connect with each other as people. Priming them to build relationships.
  2. Group Projects:  Every teacher has group projects.  Make it a requirement for them to meet outside of class once.  You can have them tell you the time/place or you can have a student leader help coordinate. Forcing them to meet outside of class will give them another opportunity to create friendships with one another.
  3. Email: We all have email lists of our classes but don't delete the classes that you don't have any more!  Send out an email blast to your old students.  Let them know that you're happy the year has finally gotten under way and remind them that you're still here for them. Tell them when your office hours or free periods are and where at so they know when and where to find you.
  4. Seating Arrangement:  Don't be afraid to switch it up.  Rows facing forward.  Rows facing each other.  Groups.  Large circle.  Semi-circle. Pairs. Putting them in different seats allows them to be next to new people that they might not know.
  5. Pictures:  Take a group picture! Most of us have an online classroom environment like Moodle or Blackboard.  Use that picture as the online class banner!  That way the online space becomes theirs.
Whatever you do, remember that while content is important, the most important thing in life is relationships.  We want our students to not feel alone in this cray cray world.  They should feel comfortable expressing themselves with one another. As terrible as this sounds, I used to say "The class that parties together, stays together."  While I don't endorse the partying part, it is true. Our students are more apt to stay involved with the program or school if they feel like they have built roots there.