How to build a strong school community at primary level

How to build a strong school community at primary level

Children thrive when they feel like part of a close-knit community. In a supportive environment, they’re better able to focus on studying and working well alongside their peers. However, sometimes it can be challenging to break down the barriers between different classes, ages, and friendship...

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Children thrive when they feel like part of a close-knit community. In a supportive environment, they’re better able to focus on studying and working well alongside their peers. However, sometimes it can be challenging to break down the barriers between different classes, ages, and friendship circles. Developing a community-building policy can help to bring students together.

So, let’s take a look at the importance of building a strong school community, and explore the different strategies that school leaders and teachers can apply.

Why is building a strong school community important?

It goes without saying that a strong sense of community is a lovely contribution to the learning environment – but did you know that there are concrete benefits to fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance in your students? Research shows that when children feel safe and supported in a community, they’re more likely to:

  • Focus on learning
  • Feel motivated to try new activities
  • Develop strong friendships with classmates
  • Work well in pairs and groups
  • Build trust with teachers and support staff

However, building a strong school community has to involve everyone from non-teaching staff to school leaders and parents. Teachers are limited to their own students in terms of influence. So, for the most effective community-building, school leaders need to create an environment where students feel supported both in and outside the classroom.

6 ways to build a strong school community

Here are some of the best strategies to encourage interaction and cooperation among your students:

1. Arrange cross-year group activities

Divisions between age groups can be one of the biggest barriers between children at primary level. Older children often don’t want to spend time with the youngest students in the school.

Organising activities which involve different year groups can help bridge this gap. If they’re well-organised, you can make sure every child has a task that’s appropriate for their age and ability.

A classic example is a whole school play. Older children can play the characters with lots of lines to remember while younger ones can be background parts or sing songs. You could also try science experiments or creative projects where the little kids are the ‘helpers’, collecting materials and making observations.

2. Introduce a buddy system

As well as group activities, you can arrange one-to-one interactions between children of different ages to build a strong school community. Pairing students fosters responsibility in older students, with the added bonus of giving younger children a role model.

That being said, you can’t just force different ages together as they may not respond well. Here are some ideas for structured time together:

  • Reading sessions: Have older children suggest books and read them to the younger ones for extra credit. Our Bug Club is a great place to start!
  • Question times: Give young students opportunities to ask their buddies for advice on studying, making friends, and similar schoolyard issues.
  • Sports day: Arrange events where buddies can compete together as part of a team. However, be careful about competition – older children may become frustrated if their buddy prevents them from winning. The best activities have an element of luck or put one of the children in a supporting role.

3. Mix ages for routine school events

Involving every student where possible can help children get to know each other better. Assemblies, meal times, and field trips are often class activities but there’s no reason why they can’t be whole-school events to help build a strong school community.

You can mix classes or age groups to help students meet new people. For example, you could alternate which groups share the canteen so they have more opportunities to sit together. Although assemblies are often quiet times, students may get more used to each other as they sit together. Depending on the destination, field trips are another good opportunity for students to spend time with other classes or age groups.

4. Create shared goals

Setting targets that require a collective effort can motivate students to work together. Some common activities include:

  • Charity or fundraising drives: When you’re collecting money for a good cause, students have to cooperate to meet the target. You can also ask children to suggest charities or schemes that are meaningful to them.
  • Green initiatives: Many children are worried about the climate crisis, and taking action can help to assuage this anxiety. You can set targets for saving electricity or recycling waste to help students feel like they’re contributing to their community and working together towards a shared goal.
  • School-wide competitions: You could organise academic or extra-curricular activities for mixed groups. Some popular ideas for competitions are seeing who can build the strongest bridge out of spaghetti, or design a structure to protect an egg from a long drop.

5. Hold daily shoutouts

Recognising individual and group achievements can boost your student’s sense of community. They can feel prouder of their own efforts, celebrate their schoolmates’ wins and learn more about how others are helping them.

Daily or weekly shoutouts allow students to celebrate successes. You can use communication channels like the newsletter or website to publish them. If someone’s had an especially big win, you can mention it in assemblies.

It’s important to involve your students in the process. Try having them nominate each other anonymously to their teacher. The teaching staff can coordinate to make sure children don’t keep choosing their friends, and that all students have their achievements recognised.

6. Listen to what your students have to say

Giving students a voice in their education and how the school is run helps them feel more involved and connected with the school community. However, they must see their words have an actual impact. By actively listening and making changes where possible, you can show everyone their thoughts matter.

  • School-wide votes: Ask children to answer polls on decisions that are up for discussion. You can use their responses to help you decide where to hold the next field trip, what to serve in the cafeteria, or which books to choose from the curriculum.
  • Suggestion boxes: This is a great way of learning about the issues that students are facing. You could create a physical suggestion box, as well as a digital form on your school website.
  • Student councils: Have classes vote for a classmate to represent them in discussions. Once a month, these representatives can meet and discuss any issues that students are facing.
  • Debates: Host weekly discussions on hot topics like whether homework should be banned – though you may not be able to apply this if the motion is passed!

It’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll be able to fulfil all your students’ wishes. However, creating space for these contributions can generate some good ideas. You never know when your students might come up with a suggestion that could transform the school community!

An achievable goal

Building a strong school community isn’t just a valuable goal but also an achievable one. You may need some time to see the results of your work but it’s worthwhile. Both students and teachers can benefit from a more positive atmosphere and stronger relationships.

The key is consistent and continuous involvement from all members of the teaching and support staff.

Further reading

For more ideas on how to create a nurturing environment, read our blogs on how to create a love of learning and teaching equality and inclusion.

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