This post is about promoting a class community and has a free puzzle printable, as well as a rules printable. Setting up classes as real, working communities that value each and every person (student, teachers, paras, specialists) is promoted throughout Great Expectations Charter School in Grand Marais, MN.  (scroll down to find 3 freebies in this post)

Promoting a Class Community

Kathryn Nelson-Pedersen, the teacher of the multi-age grades 7 and 8 class (the Otters) at Great Expectations, has made this focus especially visible with group displays.  As in all classrooms at GES they start each day with a morning circle.  In middle school this circle is called The Circle of Power and Respect.

Kathryn is  in a unique position as she says, “I have had the same students for three years and I will have some for four years, as they will not graduate until next year.”  She also taught these students when they were in 5th and 6th grade.  That is quite a few morning meetings!

Promoting a Class Community Free Puzzle Printable

photo of the 5 cares

Kathryn also has an attractive, artistic display of the 5 cares. The school has 5 Cares:  cooperation, assertion, self-control, respect, and empathy, all basic to Responsive Classroom.  Each student’s individuality is important and shared as demonstrated in the self-portraits (below) by the Otters’ class.  This picture is very large but I wanted readers to be able to clearly see the amazing student work.

Forming Identities

photo of self portrait masks by 7th and 8th graders

Because middle-school students are forming identities separate from the group, they need to be in a safe and caring environment.  At GES, they learn to accept and appreciate each other, which helps form a close community.  The Otters class has the status of being the eldest at the school.  Most of the students have grown up in a responsive classroom school culture, and have leadership skills which help them mentor younger students. At this age, they are also more independent academically.  Kathryn facilitates learning not by being a sage on the stage, but as a guide on the side for the students, with projects that encourage critical thinking and problem solving.

photo of Kathryn Nelson-Pedersen and studentsKathryn teaches Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, and Art, and serves as the primary homeroom teacher responsible for the creation of a classroom community through the intentional teaching of a social curriculum. She is the fourth generation of Scandinavian immigrants who settled in Cook County.  She demonstrates education can be more student-centered, and responsive to individual needs, while teaching social responsibility in a nurturing environment.


Inspirational quotes help students contemplate and reflect. The chalkboard paint on walls provides places for inspirational quotes in the classroom, such as this quote about excellence.  This is an example of a goal to which these young minds may aspire.

excellence quote

Here is an example of something to ponder between classes.  The learning never stops!

photo of quote on wall

Quilt displays are similar to a jigsaw puzzle, where individual student work is displayed as a community project.  This is an example of the individual contributing to the greater good and learning of the class.  Students are learning to work together now, to help them become contributing members of society.

quilt project photo

photo of quilt project

My very favorite from this class is the list of class rules, beginning with, “Strive to be open-minded optimists.”

class rules for 7th and 8th graders

These rules are signed by all classmates and are as follows:

1.  Strive to be open-minded optimists.

2.  We are all equal and important so let others be heard and included.

3.  Be responsible.  Think before you act.

4.  Be safe, participate, and do our best.

5.  Conserve resources for future generations.

I think we should all follow the Otters’ rules!  I think these show impressive thinking. (scroll down for a freebie of these rules)

Promoting a Class Community Puzzle

One of the freebies today is a jigsaw printable poster for paper 18″ X 24″.  I asked Teacher’s Clip Art to make this for others to be able to print and use the idea in Kathryn’s class.  So here it is, and if your school doesn’t have a poster printer, printing shops will be able to print these.

The PDF includes some options, as I often had more than 20 students. The center portion that is enlarged for the class goals.  The poster could be cut apart for the working session, and reassembled for display.  The numbers correspond to student names in alphabetical order, or use the page with lines for names.

My students would often draw so the puzzle pieces were upside down or sideways, so remind them to orient the pieces so the numbers are right-side up. I like how Teacher’s Clip Art made this as if more pieces could be added, implying there is a world beyond the classroom for us to consider.

Promoting a Class Community Free Puzzle Printable

Below is a printable poster 18″ X 24″ of my favorite Otters’ rule.

photo of rule poster

And finally, here are all 5 of the Otters’ rules for letter size printing.  While each class should help write their own rules, these could be an inspiration for discussion.  I like these rules so much!

Promoting a Class Community Free Rules Printable

Thank you for reading, Carolyn

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