, Volume 24, Issue 6, pp 719-748

Creating classrooms that students experience as communities

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Although prior research has shown sense of community in schools to be related to many positive student characteristics, effective interventions that can create or enhance this sense have not been demonstrated. In this paper we describe a comprehensive elementary school program, implemented by teachers, that was successful in creating a sense of community in the classrooms, as perceived by students. The program was implemented in three elementary schools in a suburban school district; three additional schools in the same district served as a comparison group. The program, which emphasized cooperative learning, the importance of democratic and prosocial values, student autonomy and self-direction, and a child-centered approach to teaching and classroom management, was experienced by a cohort of students from kindergarten through Grade 4, and by a subset of that cohort through Grade 6. Sense of community was assessed—by questionnaire—in Grades 4, 5, and 6; various student outcomes were assessed via questionnaire and interview. Results indicated that the program was successful in heightening students’ sense of community, and that the sense of community—by itself and in combination with program status—related positively to a number of student outcomes. There was also suggestive evidence that students who experienced their classroom as a community attempted to abide by its norms and values, and that the authority structure of the classroom was an important determinant of students’ experience of community and of some of its observed effects.