In our often-fractured society building a sense of community is an important facilitator function. The isolation of a room full of people of the same age accompanied by one adult complicates the situation. Try to find ways to add other adults to the mix. Even one, dramatically alters the dynamics. Student-teachers, volunteers, students who are adults, auditors, visitors, friends, sisters, children, parents, and grand parents will make a substantive difference. Even the boyfriend recently returned from war.
Within-the-room activities that strengthen awareness of community include song leading and choral reading, projects that allow grouping along gender lines, activities where individuals have a role to play that affects the whole, voting after discussion and consensus building – perhaps the most challenging of all.
Try to find ways for the entire class to see and benefit from an individual’s work as an alternative to the teacher being the only one other than a friend or two who sees or reads it.
Outside the class, strengthen connections to the greater neighborhood. Field trips, while often subtly discouraged, matter, as do walks outside the building. One passageway to the world beyond the classroom is through parents. Another way is through the web.
Design and detail one community building activity whose goal is to enhance cohesiveness within your class, one that builds connectedness to the neighborhood, and one that engages in a nationwide or worldwide event.
Detail these below:
[When I was a boy at home with my family hosting a party or some commemorative occasion, I imagined myself an emissary shuttling between two widely differing cultures each with its own sounds, humor and purposes. I would hang coats, serve drinks, and clear dishes according to the demands of the situation
In the kitchen I heard the high-pitched frolic of a group clustered around the sink as some things got washed and others prepared to be `set out’, the sounds of running water and the flashing of knives cutting, sharing the space with conversations, nods and laughter of women, some times all at once amid the wondrous smells of cheese and fruit, pate and coffee. “Did you hear what happened to . . .”Wasn’t that terrible?” I tried not to listen too closely as I didn’t have the credentials.
Meanwhile in the living room, the pipes and cigars would breathe thoughtfully, as the men addressed the issues of the day that begged for their insight. Sometimes these discussions were solemn at others droll and pulsed by outbreaks at the punch-lines of personal experience narrated.]
I am aware that from today’s perspective this description is stereotypical. We have broadened our cultural views on who should do what and when and yet it seems to me that in a subtle but substantial way the division continues its relevance and remains a necessary compliment to the kinds of inter-gender, all-in exchanges that have come to replace it in our schools.
Historically, our first approach was to have the schools themselves segregated; then only certain classes like health and phys.-ed and later gender studies or women’s issues. Perhaps we are now prepared for something subtly different – an acknowledgement of fundamental focus and value differences (like those spotted in our political polls), with altered contours and contexts.
Now and again an opportunity opens to divide a class into single gender groups facilitated by different moderators for consideration of a topic with the expectation that each group would share its conclusions with the rest, risking alarms to be sure in what might become a contentious debate, or decide not to. Or we might go further still. I am intrigued by the concept of a class specifically designed to do exactly such activities. We might call it `Venus and Mars’. I suspect it would fill in no time and maybe run more smoothly as participants had been prepared by the title before they agreed to join the conference.