Top Tips for Cultivating a Caring & Collaborative Community
Written by Elaine Jaltema, Intermediate Teacher
Meet basic needs: Plan to meet people’s needs for belonging, power & recognition, freedom and fun (Restitution Theory by Diane Gossen). One example is to teach students different fun ways to show recognition of another’s achievements, e.g.:
• A “round of applause” – clap in a circle
• WOW – make a W with each hand and an O in the middle with your mouth
• The standing “O” – stand and make a large letter “O” with arms
• Crocodile clapping – stand and make large clapping arms like jaws
• Seal of approval – clap arms like flippers
• Drum roll – drum on desks
• Self-ovation – standing, bring elbow almost to opposite knee & yell “Yes!”
• Deaf clap
• Quiet clap: finger snapping
• Self high 5
• “I’m so bright I have to wear sunglasses!”

Use Cooperative group learning structures: Remember to include all 5 elements and to coach students often on what cooperation looks like (sitting at the same height in a circle, leaning in) and sounds like (encouraging comments and solicitous questions). The 5 elements are Positive Interdependence, Individual Accountability, Face-to-Face Interaction, Social Skills, and Group Processing. Assign social tasks concurrent with academic tasks. Whenever new groups are formed, it’s important to give them a short group-building task to help them become comfortable with one another. Low-risk activities work well such as: describe your favourite dinner or your dream vacation.

Use name cards to call on students: Print each student’s name on a small card. By using these cards to call on students to answer questions, you don’t fall into the trap of calling on only those who continually raise their hands. If a student doesn’t know the answer, they call say “help” and pass the question on to someone who raises their hand. Put the card back into the middle of the stack rather than on the bottom so that students don’t figure they can count on a free ride once they have been called on. You might choose to keep track of who calls for help rather than giving their own answer by putting a check mark on the back of the cards when they call for help.


Use name cards to divide students into groups: Once students are used to seeing you continually shuffle these cards to call on students and place them in random groups, they don’t notice that sometimes you have pre-loaded them so they fall into the groups or partnerships that you have secretly selected.

Hold class meetings: Have students take turns chairing weekly meetings that include thank-yous between students, opportunities to bring up problems, and planning something where students can make genuine decisions such as games for P.E., an event, topic or method for learning, or new system for organizing room.

Number desks: If students are routinely sitting in pods, you can easily refer to each desk position by number, regardless of where each student is sitting. For example: Your 6 pods are numbered 1-6. Each desk position within the pod is numbered 1-5. In this way, directions are very quick, e.g.
• In the gym, even pods are on this side and odd pods are on the other
• Person 3 picks up the hand-outs
• Start your discussion by listening to person 4 first
• Persons 2 & 4 move one pod over and share your group’s ideas

Make it safe for kids to tell: Every couple of weeks, give students a writing topic for a 10 minute silent write. Give them the choice of writing instead an anonymous note about what you should know, e.g. who is being picked on, how people are feeling, a change they’d like to make in the class, etc. At the end of the writing time, everyone turns in their papers with no one knowing who wrote on the assigned topic and who has given you other information. If you do this early in the day, you can read the comments and address them in an appropriate way in a class meeting.

Establish leadership teams: Divide your class into 5 mixed-ability teams who are responsible for the leadership one day a week, e.g. setting up gym equipment, cleaning up the room, handing out supplies, making decisions about activities, etc.

Keep Repeating the Tribes Trail to maintain a collaborative community:
1. Inclusion (a sense of belonging)
2. Influence (valuing differences)
3. Community (working together creatively)