[This was originally posted on my school's staff blog, West Hills Stories]
One of the things I try to foster in my classes, both history and photography, is a sense of community. I believe in being a part of something whenever possible. I think the insecurities in all of us are bolstered and knocked down some when we come together. Within my classes, I actively and consciously put into play a few basic strategies throughout the year. I have a simple premise: if students feel connected to the class, they might care a little more and try harder.
What has worked for me isn’t anything special or crazy. I banter, joke, ask about their weekends, use Facebook to encourage participation, and I regularly let them know they are part of something special. For instance, I’m always changing things up, so I tell them we are doing something new or cutting edge. I also have projects and lessons that I’ve been doing for over ten years. For those, I tell them they are part of an ongoing tradition. These things might not be as dramatic as some of the lessons going on next door, but it is the same idea on my level. In photo, I’ve branded the room – Studio A3. I want it to be known as place where amazing creativity takes place. Over the years, I’m betting on this brand to help the Digital Imagery Pathway grow.
Another part of my community building involves occasionally letting students help guide the class. A couple weeks ago, I was just starting a lesson on industrialization and the rise of unions in World History. Up went a hand and a question was asked about Prop 32. I had planned to talk about the election the following week, so I asked if they wanted to swap days. We took a vote and had a spirited discussion of Prop 32 and presidential candidates.
Another example involves the People and Their Things project currently being completed by my Advanced Photography students. The original assignment asked them to photograph any two people. I offered a token amount of extra credit if they chose a staff member. After I printed the first 10 images and showed them to the class, one student asked if they could do more. I thought for a minute and asked if they wanted to do the whole staff. They responded with a resounding “yes”. It wasn’t another individual assignment, but something they all were working towards together. Another student chimed in that it would be cool to see all the teachers and a little about their personalities all in one place.
Yes it would be. It was the perfect convergence of ideas. My community of Advanced Photo students get to create something special that is going to help us as a school build a greater sense of community.
I wish I could say that I planned it that way.
[The photographs will be on display in the office after Thanksgiving. Click here for a preview of the ones that are already completed.]